I’m from what I’ve often described as an ‘aggressively arty’ family. One where homemade birthday cards are a must and even storebought wrapping paper is frowned upon. Yet I’ve always taken my eye sight for granted, doing very little to protect the sense that I claim to value so much. It wasn’t until my grandma, an enthusiastic amateur artist herself, began to lose her sight, that my perspective changed.
Sprightly and highly motivated, Grandma C attended art classes regularly up until the age of 80, producing a body of work that still dominates the home of even the most distant relative. It was arguably her natural talent for art, genes of which escaped my dad – whose attempt at drawing a mouse left my sisters and I in cruel hysterics at the tender ages of five, seven and nine - that led to the feverish productions which still litter the family home.
Powered by a ferocious will and a daily dose of Sanatogen, it seemed possible that Grandma C would remain unchanged forever, pastel ever ready, eye ever critical. It was therefore a shock when a family friend, noticing her artwork was getting blurrier, first raised the alarm that there might be something wrong with her vision.
Of course, I knew she was getting old. A fall had forced her retirement from the tennis court at 75, and she had long ago given up the independence brought by short cycles to the shops or neighbours. However, perhaps naively, I had assumed the sedate hobby of putting pencil to paper was ‘safe’, but it seemed that that too was now also being eroded.
Tests revealed wet age related macular degeneration (AMD), a common condition that often manifests itself as distorted vision and lines, and one which, if treated in an appropriate and timely manner, can maintain good functional vision. The artist Georgia O’Keeffe, famous for her depictions of flowers on a huge scale, was forced to stop painting after suffering the same condition.
Grandma C was lucky, a relatively early diagnosis meant a better prognosis. Any later and she may have not only lost her ability to create art, but the independence she had left.
Now in her late 80’s, she needs more care and her art is limited to the occasional sketch. Yet I am still grateful she had the extra time to pursue her passion. With regular sight tests, I can only hope to meet 70, 80 and 90 with the same vigour, though potentially without the fortified wine.
Emily Campbell is AOP's Marketing and PR Officer at the Association of Optometrists.