With the recent passing of comedian and Academy Award winner Robin Williams, the conversation of combating depression and its effects is as relevant as ever. While the cause of his troubles may not have been because of age-related macular degeneration, the desire to identify and treat clinical depression remains.
Research suggests that about 25% of people with macular degeneration in both eyes go on to develop clinical depression and Dr. Barry Rovner, a geriatric psychiatrist at Thomas Jefferson University, decided to create a test therapy around the subject.
The thought was that age-related macular degeneration can cause elder Americans to lose the ability to do things they love – reading, cooking, driving, and/or socializing – which can result in feeling withdrawn and depressed.
He created a treatment to give patients strategies to build on the functional vision they currently had to continue with their daily routines and activities. He believed this form of behavior activation would help keep depression at bay by allowing people to create coping strategies for their vision loss, rather than give up activities all together.
For the study, individuals in their early to mid-80s with age-related macular degeneration and mild depressive symptoms were split into two groups. Both groups saw a therapist, but only one group worked with the therapist to develop coping strategies for their vision loss; the other group only spoke about their vision loss and disability. The results of the study showed that people who came up with a coping plan and stuck with it reduced their risk of depression by more than half compared to those who only spoke with the therapist.
Eyesight is one of our main engagements with the world and if we have the ability to help someone with vision loss stay connected, there is a greater chance of treating possible depressive symptoms.