macular degeneration

Prism lenses seem to provide little additional benefit.

* THE QUESTION To compensate for their loss of central vision, people with macular degeneration frequently look sideways at objects, forcing the eye to see around the dark or blank spots that often appear in the center of their field of vision. Might eyeglasses with special prism lenses -- which move images so no twisting or turning is needed -- improve their vision?

* THIS STUDY randomly assigned 225 people with macular degeneration to be given customized prescription eyeglasses either with or without prism lenses. After three months, scores on standardized eye exams measuring distance vision, ability to read small print and reading speed were about the same for both groups, as were ratings on the participants' ability to perform such tasks as going down steps in dim light, threading a needle and reading street signs. About 26 percent of the group with standard lenses reported some difficulty wearing them, compared with roughly 50 percent of those who tried prism lenses. The most common problems in the prism group were dizziness, loss of balance and distortion.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Anyone with macular degeneration, which tends to develop as people age and is the main cause of vision loss among those 60 and older.

* CAVEATS The eye can be trained to look around the spot of vision loss, called eccentric viewing; because most participants had macular degeneration for some time before the study, it is possible that their eyes may have developed this ability without training, which could have tempered the prism's effect.

* FIND THIS STUDY August issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology; abstract available online at

* LEARN MORE ABOUT macular degeneration at and


A drug may reduce risk of hip fracture in dementia patients.

* THE QUESTION Older women with Alzheimer's are more prone to falling (because of the disease) and more apt to fracture a hip in the process (because of bone fragility that comes with aging). Might an osteoporosis drug reduce the frequency of these problems?

* THIS STUDY randomly assigned 500 women diagnosed with dementia and probable Alzheimer's disease, who averaged 78 years old, to take either risedronate (Actonel) or a placebo daily. All women took vitamin D and calcium each day as well. During the next 18 months, the average number of falls was about the same in both groups and was less than before the study. However, five women who took risedronate broke a hip, compared with 19 women in the placebo group, for a 74 percent reduction in risk. Bone mineral density increased in the risedronate group and decreased in the placebo group.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Older women with Alzheimer's. An estimated 4.5 million Americans have this disease, which usually begins after age 60 and becomes more common with age.

* CAVEATS The study did not determine whether the decrease in falls was attributable specifically to risedronate, the vitamin/calcium supplements or possible synergism between them.

* FIND THIS STUDY August 8/22 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine; abstract available online at

* LEARN MORE ABOUT Alzheimer's disease at and


Regular use of painkillers may raise blood pressure in women.

* THE QUESTION Consider that nearly one in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure and that painkillers are the medication taken most often by Americans. Might the two be connected?

* THIS STUDY analyzed data on 5,123 female nurses participating in two long-term studies on chronic diseases. None of the women had high blood pressure at the start of the study. In a three- to four-year period, those who regularly took more than 500 milligrams a day of acetaminophen were nearly twice as likely to develop high blood pressure as those who took none. Women who took more than 400 milligrams daily of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (mainly ibuprofen) had a 60 to 78 percent greater chance of developing high blood pressure than those who never took NSAIDs, with the likelihood increasing with age. Taking aspirin did not affect blood pressure readings.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Women who take sizable doses of painkillers regularly.

* CAVEATS The findings were based on self-reporting of hypertension, but the authors considered the reports reliable because all participants were registered nurses. The study did not determine whether the risk of high blood pressure varied for ibuprofen, naproxen or other NSAIDs. The study considered participants' family history, physical activity and use of such products as caffeine, alcohol and tobacco; whether participants' health problems might have affected their blood pressure was unclear.

* FIND THIS STUDY Aug. 15 online issue of Hypertension; abstract available at (click "Online first").

* LEARN MORE ABOUT high blood pressure at and

-- Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.