Glaucoma is a common disease affecting more than 3 million Americans today, yet only half of those affected know they have it. Ignorance of what Glaucoma is, whom it affects and how it is treated is a major concern. Glaucoma is known as the “silent thief,” because it can steal someone’s vision with no warning signs. This is why the SUNY NOSA chapter made it a top priority to take part in NOSA’s national Glaucoma Awareness Initiative this January. We chose to visit a local senior center in Spanish Harlem to speak to an at-risk group of residents about this disease.
Setting up a presentation at the Covello Senior Center was a surprisingly easy task. Once we knew that we wanted to reach out to seniors all it took was a Google search for nearby senior centers. After a couple of emails, we were directed to the one public senior center in the area that provided weekend hours. Rochelle, the Director of Community Services at the Covello Center, was very eager to help with our presentation and even printed out our posters (in both English and Spanish!) and hung them around the center a few weeks before our arrival. She hosted us in the media room of the center and we were able to set up our trusty eyeball model and pull up our presentation and videos.
Glaucoma can affect anyone but there are certain populations who are at a higher risk. Adults over 60 years old (especially of Hispanic/Latin descent), African Americans over 40 years old and those with a family history of Glaucoma should be advised to obtain yearly dilated eye exams to ensure they are not developing the disease. We tried to stress the importance of yearly eye exams to the seniors who attended our event. No one was a fan of being dilated but our explanation of why it is necessary and how it allowed doctors to examine a patient’s eye health helped sway the opinions of residents about “the drops that make you blurry.” It felt great to educate people on what we do as part of an eye exam an how the optic nerve is examined for signs of Glaucoma. We also educated the residents about the fact that checking eye pressure is not the only component of screening for Glaucoma.
One of the seniors we spoke to had been diagnosed Primary Open Angle Glaucoma and was inspired to call her daughter to encourage her to get a dilated eye exam as well as tell the doctor that she has a positive family history. It was such a joy to hear this. This was why we chose to go out and educate! We wanted people talk about Glaucoma, and not just thinking “it’s something my mother or grandmother has, but I don’t have to worry about it.” Knowledge is power, and we felt great about doing our part to empower members of our community to take charge of their eye health.
The Covello Center has already asked our NOSA chapter at SUNY to return to host a Q&A on vision topics relating to seniors. We were delighted to receive the invitation and are looking forward to scheduling our next visit. I would like to encourage all our fellow NOSA chapters to reach out to a local senior center to do a similar event. Explaining these conditions and answering common questions can enrich us as student-doctors while providing an important service to our communities.
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