Deirdre O’Kane is setting her sights on a bright future

Comedian and ‘Dancing With the Stars’ finalist Deirdre O’Kane says maintaining good eye health is vital. Even more so as she has no intention of retiring — ever, writes Margaret Jennings

Deirdre O’Kane is setting her sights on a bright future

Comedian and ‘Dancing With the Stars’ finalist Deirdre O’Kane says maintaining good eye health is vital. Even more so as she has no intention of retiring — ever, writes Margaret Jennings

When comedian and actress Deirdre O’Kane blew out those candles to celebrate her 50th birthday in full view of the nation, as a finalist on RTE’s Dancing with the Stars on March 25, she arguably became the poster girl of the moment for positive ageing.

Having fought her way competitively through the gruelling exercise routines for the celebrity dance competition, the mother of two also looked amazing — further proof that if we follow a healthy routine as the years clock up, age is just a number.

“I do think 50 is the new 40 and I think that it’s down to the fact we’re all much more aware of staying fit and looking after our health and wellbeing,” she tells Feelgood.

“I feel that this has allowed us to gain 10 years!”

It’s no wonder the popular comedian has been chosen to launch the upcoming AMD (Age Related Macular Degeneration) Week, as the condition is the number one cause of sight loss in Ireland for those aged over 50.

As well as looking after her eye health, she has a balanced fitness routine: “I try and have a healthy lifestyle, but I’m average and not a nut about anything. I enjoy exercise and take a Revive Active daily.

"I love walking and I weight train and do yoga a few times a week — but all in moderation.”

The theme of this year’s AMD Week is Sightsee With Me, highlighting the importance of managing eye health to continue to see impressive sites with the ones we love.

As research has indicated travel is high on our bucket list when we reach our later decades, does she ever see herself retiring, perhaps 15 years down the line, and heading off?

“I’ve no intention of retiring — ever. I often look at Jane Fonda for instance and think she’s fabulous. I think it’s overrated and because I love what I do, as long as people are willing to hire me, I’ll still be working,” she says.

“That’s another reason I think it’s so important for us to look after our eye health — to ensure we’re able to carry on doing and seeing the things we love.”

More than 100,000 people in Ireland aged over 50 are living with AMD with one in ten people in that age group affected.

Over 7,000 new cases are diagnosed each year here. The symptoms include vision distortion and blurring and often go unrecognised in the early stages, so it is crucial that those aged 50 and older get their eyes tested regularly.

That is why throughout AMD Week which starts on Monday, (September 10- 17) a testing bus will travel around the country providing free AMD eye tests.

“If like myself you are a member of the over 50 age group in Ireland, it’s time to add the conversation about AMD to the list of health concerns that increase in prevalence with the ageing process,” says Lynda McGivney-Nolan, optometrist and optometric advisor to the Association of Optometrists Ireland.

“As a recent member of the over-50s club and as an optometrist, my conversation with my patients about AMD has changed in perspective over the years,” says Lynda.

“This is not only because AMD is now a personal issue for me, but the outlook these days for those affected by the condition, is so much more positive, in contrast to when I qualified nearly 30 years ago. Research, patient education and new treatments have significantly improved the prognosis for those affected by the condition.”

The macula is the name for the area on the lining of the eye — the retina — which is responsible for our central vision. We need the macula to be able to see clear sharp images. Any damage to it will affect our central vision.

“As we age, so too do our eyes. However, in some individuals this ageing process accelerates at the macula, resulting in premature damage to the light receptor cells, resulting in reduced vision, and in some cases loss of central vision,” says Lynda.

In the early stages there are very little symptoms of AMD. Often people are not aware that they have it until they visit their optometrist for an eye examination, she points out. That is why it is important to get regular eye check-ups at least every two years.

If you smoke, your risk of developing AMD is double that of the normal population and genetic experts have detected 20 different genes that increase the risk of developing AMD, so family history also plays a big part.

Tips for avoiding AMD

- Give up smoking

- Get exercise: Studies show that getting exercise boosts your blood circulation and helps to protect the macula.

- Watch your blood pressure and cholesterol.

- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of leafy greens, eggs and fish which help protect the macula from AMD.

- Wear sunglasses to help reduce the risk of UV light accelerating the ageing process at the macula.

To find out more about the condition and AMD Week check out www.amd.ie.

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