Published: Jan 12, 2015
Losing your vision can feel a little like the world is closing in on you. For many seniors with vision loss, this feeling is often actualized with a diminished ability to engage in daily activities, such as preparing a meal or using the telephone, that most of us take for granted. Vision loss is a major contributor to disability, the loss of independence, and reduced quality of life, and more than 2.9 million Americans aged 65 or older suffer from vision impairment. While the chance of vision loss increases with age, and there is the misconception that it should be taken as a normal part of aging, it is not any less traumatic for the older individual than it would be for a younger person. It may, in fact, be the most traumatic health problem many seniors face. The psychosocial effects of vision loss in seniors can have detrimental consequences.
Numerous studies have shown that seniors with vision loss experience greater difficulty with daily activities than those who suffer from other chronic conditions. Senior adults with vision loss also report a greater number of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke than those who do not have vision difficulties. This can be attributed to a poorer diet as low-vision seniors are four times more likely to have difficulty preparing meals than their normal-vision counterparts. This may also be directly linked to the fact that low-vision seniors are less likely to be physically active. (Only 59.6% of low-vision seniors report activity compared to 70.2% of normal-vision seniors.) This is not surprising when you consider that compared to normal-vision seniors, low-vision seniors are more than three times more likely to find it difficult to get outside and are three times as likely to have difficulties walking.
As a result, visually impaired seniors have noticeably higher levels of depression and anxiety than seniors with other chronic conditions. Because of their visual impairment, they may tend to isolate more and stop engaging in activities that they once enjoyed. Researchers have discovered that it is actually these higher levels of depression and anxiety that contribute to the seniors’ difficulty performing everyday tasks more so than their visual disability. As visually impaired seniors become more depressed because of their vision loss, they begin to have more medical problems, creating a vicious cycle where the depression creates a worsening physical state and the worsening physical state increases depression.
The good news is that with support and therapy designed to help visually impaired seniors regain their independence, this cycle can be broken. Doctors can prescribe rehabilitation that will allow seniors to learn to cope with and manage their vision loss so that they can remain active participants in their communities. Family, friends, and caregivers can also help these seniors with many activities, such as meal preparation and transportation to events, appointments, and gatherings, so that their isolation is limited and they can carry on with their daily lives. By staying active and social low-vision seniors can reduce their chances of suffering from depression, which then decreases their overall risks of developing additional chronic conditions.
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