The one thing I wish my mother had taught me was that the sooner you jump on top of any health issues, the easier they are to correct or control. Alas, she is a radical feminist, so I have always known that as a woman, I can do anything, and that I need a man like a fish needs a bicycle (NB, quite keen on men, fish, and bicycles), but it’s taken me into my forties to start being serious about good health,
I’m lucky in many ways. Pale skin means I’ve always worn sunblock and sunglasses, I’ve never smoked, and I can’t drive, so I’ve spent my life walking and riding bicycles, when not running for trains and buses. But age is definitely taking its toll beyond laugh lines and the bum of doom that resists all my gym efforts at shrinkage. Standing at a bus stop a few months ago, I saw a bus in the distance and was peering to make out the numbers when a young lad beside me announced to his mate, ‘It’s the 428!’ It took me until the bus was about 50m closer to be able to make out the giant yellow numbers on a dark background.
Resisting the urge to turn around and mutter ‘Cheeky young whippersnapper!’, I decided that it might be time for an eye test.
One of the glories of life in Australia is that Medicare covers regular eye tests, so the basic check was free. But OPSM offer an additional service called a Digital Retinal Scan that costs about $30 and can be done in five minutes without any drops or prep. You just look into a lens, hold still, and they take a photo of your retina. The photo is then checked by the in-store optometrist, and then held securely on file so that future scans can be compared with the original DRS.
Now I thought this was a great idea in itself, because the retina is such an important part of the eye and you can spot a whole lot of vision problems by having a good look at it. For me, it was extra useful, because I had a bad head injury while cycling some years back, and wanted to be certain that all was still well in the eye that came off worst (it was).
But as it turns out, Digital Retinal Scans (or DRS-es as the pros call ’em) are able to show up far more than just trauma. Early signs of diabetes often show up in the retina, where tiny blood vessels can be easily damaged. Similarly, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma can all be spotted early and treated or managed before their symptoms become obvious.
The week after my test, I was watching the news and a research scientist came on saying that they had found that DRS-es were a useful tool in helping to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, too. Apparently, the size of the veins at the back of your eyes is a good indicator of plaques building up in the brain, and that changes in a person’s DRS year on year are a good indicator that they should investigate further.
How amazing is that? A photo of the back of your eye could give you warning that something is amiss and help get you into treatment ages before symptoms become obvious, prolonging your good health and quality of life. And it’s only $30!
I had my DRS at OPSM, who have the new fast scanners in their stores. Most other optometrists can also provide you with a DRS, but some will require drops and a longer exposure time. Still, completely worth it for the peace of mind, or early warning!
And on the topic of warnings, I’ve added it to the advice spiel that I share with all the young people in my own life: Never date a politician; never trust a taxi driver when you are on a bicycle; always wear clothes that will look OK in photos 20 years from now; always get your eyes and general health checked once a year!