Dr Li Chan

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Australian-first eye health initiative helps save the sight of older Aussies in Armidale. Dr Li Chen, Vision Van Optometrist explains.



What is the Vision Van?

The Vision Van is an Australian-first community initiative, which rolled into Armidale on the 23rd and 24th of June 2009, as part of an awareness and screening tour for Age-related Macular Degeneration, or AMD, which is Australia’s leading cause of blindness.

What was your role in the Vision Van initiative?

As a practising optometrist, I travelled with the Vision Van across about 6,500 kilometres to 28 regional towns throughout NSW, QLD and VIC, conducting free macular screenings for local residents over 50 yrs who are most at risk of AMD.

The Vision Van is a Winnebago, professionally fitted out with state-of-the-art optical equipment and transformed into a consulting room, so you can say that I took my work home with me, travelling, living and working in the Vision Van for three months!

What is Age-related Macular Degeneration, and why is it important to provide screenings?

Age-related Macular Degeneration is a progressive eye disease which affects the macula and affects straight ahead vision. If not treated, the aggressive form of the disease, called wet AMD, can even lead to blindness! If left untreated, wet AMD can leave the majority of men and women functionally blind within two years.

How many people does AMD affect?

AMD affects one in seven people over 50 and is a major health problem for the ageing Australian population. Based on these figures, over 4,000 people in Armidale are likely to be at risk of the condition and almost 600 could potentially be affected.

Unfortunately, more than one in three Australians believe that severe vision loss is simply a part of getting older. It is not! Loss of sight in an elderly person is not normal.

Who is at risk?

If you are over the age of 50, you are at risk of AMD. Also, people with a family history of macular degeneration have a 50 percent chance of developing the disease. And finally, smoking is also a significant risk factor.

What can I do to reduce my risk?

If you are over the age of 50, it is important to have your eyes tested and macula checked by your local optometrist every two years. Early detection of AMD is absolutely critical in order to save sight!

Other things you can do include not smoking, keeping a healthy lifestyle and exercising regularly. A healthy and well-balanced diet is also important, eating fish two or three times a week, leafy green vegetables daily and a handful of nuts a week can help reduce the risk of AMD or potentially slow down the progression of the disease.

What are the symptoms of AMD?

Symptoms of AMD include distorted central vision, blurred vision, dark patches or empty spaces appearing in the centre of vision, difficulty reading, altered colour perception and contrast sensitivity. If you find that distinguishing faces is a problem, straight lines appear wavy or bent or dark patches appear in the centre of your vision, make an appointment with your optometrist.

How was the Vision Van helping detect the symptoms of AMD?

The Vision Van offered free screenings for AMD to over 1,200+ people throughout three states. Macula checks were performed in just 15 minutes, using state-of-the-art facilities and screening methods approved by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) and the Optometrists Association Australia (OAA).

People who displayed warning signs were referred to an ophthalmologist for further investigation.

How successful was the Vision Van’s visit to Armidale?

The Vision Van aimed to screen the eyes of around 50 Armidale residents. Furthermore, the Vision Van offered many more people information on AMD and its risks, highlighting the importance of preserving eye health.

What organisations are involved in the Vision Van initiative?

The Vision Van is a joint collaboration between Novartis Pharmaceuticals, the Macular Degeneration Foundation (MDF), the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO), the Optometrists Association Australia (OAA), the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Carl Zeiss Pty Ltd, Designs for Vision, and Custom Fleet.

How has the Vision Van affected you personally?

It’s difficult to grasp the enormity of the impact of AMD on a person’s lifestyle until you, or someone close to you, experiences it. I travelled with my partner Paul, and on our journey we met countless sufferers who each had a unique story to tell about how AMD has taken over their lives. Certainly, the tour was a learning experience professionally, but we were also fortunate enough to meet some remarkable individuals.

The Vision Van journey was a wonderful and memorable experience. Detecting signs of AMD at an early stage is a rewarding feeling, as this could potentially save the sight of many Australians.

Contact your local optometrists Brennan & Smith on 6772 5555.


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