The adjective “senile” in the context of senile retinoschisis is a medical one used to differentiate it from three other forms of retinoschisis, and in particular from juvenile retinitis.
Juvenile retinitis only affects young men in childhood up to the age of ten, whereas senile retinitis rarely affects anyone, men or women, under the age of forty.
So then, a diagnosis of senile retinoschisis doesn’t mean you are, or are about to become, a doddering old fool – it just means you haven’t got the version that affects very young men!
What is senile retinoschisis?
Well the name gives part of the explanation away – it’s something to do with the retinal layer at the back of the eye that absorbs the light before being processed into visual information by the brain.
Schisis is a Greek word meaning split, and so retinoschisis means literally “splitting of the retina”.
In all types of retinoschisis the retina layer in fact splits into two; however it’s who the retinoschisis affects and their age, together with the long term outcome of the disorder that generate a particular type.
Senile retinoschisis almost always affects those over forty years old, sometimes those in their thirties. Unlike the juvenile version of the disorder which affects men only and is inherited, senile retinoschisis affects both men and women equally and is acquired in no particular fashion that is currently known.
There are none of the usual symptoms that are often associated with many other disorders such as excessive tearing, headaches, and sensitivity to bright lights.
The main symptoms are a gradual decrease in vision quality and loss of peripheral vision. Occasionally a person suffering from senile retinoschisis will “see” imaginary cobwebs – these are called “floaters” and their perceived existence is an indication of something amiss with the retinal layer.
The onset of senile retinoschisis is gradual, which is the reason for eye physicians in the past referring to it as “degenerative retinoschisis”.
Successful diagnosis sometimes proves tricky since retinoschisis can often be mistaken, quite reasonably one would imagine, for retinal detachment – which would not in itself be all that bad except that the treatments for the two disorders are VERY different.
Retinal detachment requires serious surgery whilst retinoschisis, the splitting of the retina into two layers, invariably requires no surgery at all.
Testing for retinoschisis involves examination of the retina using an electroretinogram which measures the response of the retina to light, and assessment of visual field.
Treatment and outcome
This is quite straightforward as none is required – unless there are complications.
Generally the disorder is not progressive and a monitoring programme of examinations every six months is sufficient. Examinations can be made every three months if there are indeed any signs of progression. Less than three percent of cases show any signs of progress after a ten year time lapse.
Surgery has not been found to be particularly appropriate to treat the condition.
If “floaters” are experienced then this may be an indication of a possible forthcoming retinal detachment, which can be treated by surgery.
Floaters are “seen” by the brain as cobweb like structures when light cannot pass through the lens to the retina because of material or tissue in the vitreous gel of the eye. Immediate intervention is required if floaters are experienced.