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Depression and Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a common cause of vision loss in those aged 60 and over, has been shown to negatively affect psychosocial well-being in many patients. For some, AMD can lead to a loss of independence, social isolation, and feelings of helplessness related to the progressive nature of the disease. But an integrated low vision rehabilitation program that addresses psychosocial functioning can prevent and treat depression related to visual impairment.

Dr. Gannon can provide you with low vision aids and devices, as well as the practical skills you need to manage your condition and ensure the highest possible quality of life. If necessary, Dr. Gannon will alert health care professionals to the presence of depressive symptoms.

If you or someone you know is suffering from AMD-related depression, we strongly advise you to seek help as soon as possible.

Vision Impairment and Mental Health in Older Adults

Though depression is quite common in older adults, rates of depression are particularly high (40%) in those with AMD. It’s inversely correlated — as vision decreases, depression increases.

Certain individuals experience just a short phase of sadness as they grieve their vision loss, but quickly adjust to their new normal. Others go through prolonged periods of depression, which only exacerbate the challenges associated with AMD.

We want you to know that there is absolutely nothing shameful about having depression. What is unfortunate, however, is to live with depression when help is available.

What Causes Depression In Those With Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Though genetics and nutrition play an important role in the development of depression, social isolation can be a major factor, especially when the ability to drive, shop, walk through the neighborhood or properly process visual stimuli (facial cues) is affected. Furthermore, vision impairment can lead people to diminish or altogether stop activities or hobbies that used to provide them with purpose and joy.

What Are the Signs of Depression?

Depression is an illness that can seriously degrade the quality of life of those suffering from it. Consider the list below and assess whether or not any of these symptoms sound familiar.

  • Increased negative thoughts and pessimism
  • Persistent sadness or feelings of emptiness
  • A noticeable decrease in energy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Apathy
  • Talking or moving slowly
  • A noticeable increase or decrease in appetite or change in sleeping habits
  • Unexplained and frequent episodes of crying

Eye care professionals routinely screen their AMD patients for depression. If you have experienced any or several of these symptoms for at least two straight weeks, we encourage you to speak with Dr. Gannon or your general practitioner about your condition and feelings. Depression can be treated, and you can regain a sense of happiness, meaning and independence.

How Can AMD-Related Depression Be Treated?

While depression is typically treated using a combination of medication and/or psychotherapy, AMD patients benefit from comprehensive treatment programs that provide patients with low vision adaptive aids, such as handheld or electronic magnifiers that maximize vision, while simultaneously providing psychosocial support to alleviate depression.

These multidisciplinary rehabilitation programs involve low vision eye doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other clinicians, such as occupational therapists, who understand and are trained in helping patients with AMD.

Patients with depression may have poor problem-solving skills that prevent them from compensating for vision deficits. This is best treated with problem-solving interventions that enable AMD patients to optimally deal with challenges related to their visual problems. With the right support, training and adaptive devices, people with AMD can continue to work, engage in sports and hobbies. Some can continue to drive.

Dr. Gannon and our caring staff will do everything to help you or a loved one regain independence and consequently improve emotional and mental health.

What Can YOU Do?

Since AMD is characterized by vision loss and a decline in function, it is important to monitor your situation and recognize if and when depression is triggered. Once you feel depressed it can be difficult to recover without professional help. Seek professional counseling, particularly counseling that complements visual rehabilitation.

If you think you might be depressed, we encourage you to speak with Dr. Gannon regarding your condition, its course, and what treatments you can expect. Dr. Gannon will be happy to provide you with adaptive devices and refer you to other professionals, such as occupational therapists, that specialize in low-vision clients. Consider joining a support group for those with macular degeneration, available both online and in-person. Social support is particularly important to diminish the sense of isolation many AMD patients experience.