July 29, 2015

How to protect your eyes from macular degeneration

Dear Savvy Senior,
Is macular degeneration hereditary? My mother lost her vision from it before she died a few years ago and now, at age 65, I’m worried I may get it. What can you tell me?
Nearsighted Susan
Dear Susan,
Having a parent or sibling with macular degeneration does indeed increase your risk three to four times. But the good news is there are things you can do to protect your eyesight and a number of treatments that are available if you do happen to get it. Here’s what you should know.

What is AMD?
Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is the most common cause of vision loss in people over age 50, affecting about 10 million Americans.
AMD is a progressive eye disease that damages the macula, the part of the eye that allows us to see objects clearly, causing vision loss in the center of your vision. This affects the ability to read, drive, watch television and do routine daily tasks, but it does not cause total blindness.
There are two types of AMD—wet and dry. Dry AMD, which affects about 90 percent of all people that have it, progresses slowly and painlessly over a period of years. Wet AMD is much more aggressive and can cause severe vision loss in a matter of weeks or months.
Factors that can increase your risk of getting AMD include age (60 and older); smoking; excessive exposure to sunlight especially if you have light-colored eyes; certain genetic components; a family history of AMD; high blood pressure; obesity; and being Caucasian.
For anyone over the age of 60, it’s a smart idea to get your eyes examined by an ophthalmologist every year. They can spot early signs of AMD before vision loss occurs. Early signs, however, may include shadowy areas in your central vision or unusually fuzzy or distorted vision. The Amsler grid at amslergrid.org, is a good tool to check your eyes for AMD.

Preventing AMD
While there’s currently no cure for AMD, there are some things you can do if you’re high risk. One option is to talk to your doctor about taking a daily dose of antioxidant vitamins and minerals known as AREDS—vitamins C and E, plus copper, lutein, zeaxanthin and zinc. Studies by the National Eye Institute have shown that AREDS can reduce the risk by about 25 percent that dry AMD will progress.
Most drug stores sell these eye supplements in tablet or soft gel form over-the-counter for around $20 to $30, but be aware that not all eye supplements contain the proper formulation. Choose either the PreserVision Eye Vitamin AREDS Formula, PreserVision Eye Vitamin Lutein Formula, PreserVision AREDS2 Formula, or ICAPS AREDS. These four options contain the right formula mix.
Other lifestyle adjustments that may help prevent or delay AMD include: eating antioxidant-rich foods such as dark green, leafy vegetables and cold-water fish for their omega-3 fatty acids; protecting your eyes from the sun by wearing UV protective sunglasses; controlling high blood pressure; exercising regularly and quitting smoking.

Wet AMD Treatments
For wet AMD, there are several effective medications (Lucentis, Avastin and Eylea) available that can stop vision loss and may even restore it. These medications are given by injection into the eye and repeated every month or two, perhaps indefinitely.
Note that each of these three drugs works equally in treating wet AMD, but there’s a big cost difference. Avastin costs just $50 per month, compared with $2,000 for the other two. So experts recommend Avastin as the first choice for most people with wet AMD, especially if you don’t have supplemental Medicare coverage.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

Five Williston dragon boats in competition

Dragonheart Vermont teammates embrace after their dragon boat race. (Observer courtesy photo)

Dragonheart Vermont teammates embrace after their dragon boat race. (Observer courtesy photo)

By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff

Five Williston teams are ready to take up their oars next weekend for the 10th annual Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival.
The Vermont Technical College Knight Riders, Windows and Oars by Brownell, the S & S enQuestadors, The Synergy Fitness Psychos and the Survivorship NOW Snowstorm are set to compete in the Aug. 2 event at Burlington’s Waterfront Park.
Each team is made up of 20 paddlers and a drummer, who race 41-foot dragon boats through a 200-meter course.
Fifty community teams and 12 breast cancer survivor teams plan to compete. The races begin at 8:30 a.m. and run through 4 p.m., when the winners are awarded. Spectators are welcome at the free community event.
Since the festival began, it has raised $1.4 million for Vermont cancer programs.
This year, festival proceeds benefit Williston-based Survivorship NOW, as well as Burlington-based breast cancer survivor organization Dragonheart Vermont.
Created by Dragonheart Vermont, Survivorship NOW—which stands for Survivorship Network on Wellness—provides free classes, wellness programs and education to survivors of all types of cancer, men and women. Survivorship NOW works to bridge the gap between treatment and recovery, addressing some of the physical, emotional and psychological needs of cancer survivors, as well as connecting them with people who have gone through the same thing.
“We provide that place you come and get strong again, emotionally and physically and spiritually,” said Penni Cross, executive director of Dragonheart Vermont.
Survivorship NOW held more than 50 classes last month—from exercise to art—and had 248 class visits for the month of June. Approximately 70 people regularly attend Survivorship NOW programs, and some of them have formed the Survivorship NOW Snowstorm dragon boat team.
Cross said the festival can also provide that same empowering space.
“Our goal is for cancer survivors or those with cancer to have the same opportunity to feel empowered, to know wellness and to just experience it, and that’s what the festival can do,” Cross said. “You can’t help but feel all that energy that the festival creates.”
Systems & Software, a software company in the same Industrial Avenue building as Survivorship NOW, is participating for the third year.
“This is something that’s dear to our hearts,” said team captain Sharron Woodworth, a client advocate at the company. “Our team gets more and more excited every year that we do this.”
She said the staff has been selling purple ribbons on which people can write the names of loved ones that are battling or have battled cancer, or that they have lost.
“I think everyone somehow or another has been touched by this disease,” she said, adding that three of her coworkers are cancer survivors, and that everyone has family members or friends who have dealt with the disease.
Windows and Doors by Brownell will field a team for the sixth year.
“It’s an awesome day,” Marketing and Sales Manager April Bolin said. “Just being down on the waterfront, you’re in one of the most beautiful places in the country. The energy surrounding the event is palpable. People are really excited to participate. The staff here just really loves to do it “
She encouraged people to come check out the festival.
“It is pretty amazing to see 21 people working together to move these huge boats,” she said. It’s a really unique sport.”
Beyond supporting a worthy cause, she said it helps the staff come together as a group.
“You all have to work together to make it happen,” she said. “If people aren’t communicating you can feel the boat slow, but when everyone is in unison and all working together and all in time, its pretty amazing to see how fast you can get that boat to go.”
Beth Camp is leading the Vermont Technical College Knight Riders, her second year participating.
“I tried it last year and I just found it really empowering,” she said.
She also encouraged residents to come out and watch the races.
“It’s like an Olympic town with all the tents, and everyone’s decorated and in costume,” she said. “It’s just amazing.”
The weekend kicks off Saturday, Aug. 1 with a new event to celebrate the festival’s 10th anniversary. Dragonheart Vermont is hosting the Paddles Up Party from 6:30-9 p.m. at Waterfront Park. Reverend Ben Donovan and the Congregation will perform in concert.
For concert tickets and information, visit the festival website at www.ridethedragon.org .

Williston, a third of state’s public schools, to get jump on universal pre-K

By Elizabeth Hewitt
For Vermont Digger
A third of Vermont school districts—including Williston and all schools in Chittenden South Supervisory Union—are on track to launch universal pre-kindergarten programs in the next school year.
Melissa Riegel-Garrett, pre-K coordinator for the Agency of Education, told the Vermont Child Poverty Council on Tuesday that some school districts are poised to implement universal publicly funded pre-kindergarten schooling at the end of the summer.
The implementation will put them in compliance with 2014’s Act 166 one year ahead of schedule.
“This is the right thing to do for our students,” CSSU Superintendent Elaine Pinckney wrote in an email to the Observer. “If we’re serious about ensuring that all students leave our schools prepared for the world of work/ careers and/or college, the work starts before kindergarten and is chain-linked to the results we get years later. There may be some bumps along the road as we implement this law, but at CSSU we are embracing it and look forward to working with all of our community partners to ensure a rigorous, meaningful and relevant educational experience prek-12.”

For the full story, visit:  vtdigger.org

VIDEO: 4th of July in Williston, Vermont

Enjoy this video recap of 4th of July festivities in Williston!

Created by 15 year old Williston resident, Doug Schmidt.