Therapy may help macular degeneration patients with depression

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- According to the National Institutes of Health, about 2 million Americans age 50 or older suffer vision loss from AMD, or age-related macular degeneration. Research suggests about 25% of those with macular degeneration in both eyes also suffer depression.

AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in the U.S., and it's common for people who have lost their vision from AMD to suffer depression. But a new study conducted by eye care and mental health professionals finds behavior activation therapy can cut this risk in half.

The earliest signs of macular degeneration may look like this: “A cloudiness to the central vision, patients often will say that they see something like a smear or a thumbprint in the middle of everything they look at, and every time they look there,” says says Dr. Cathleen McCabe of The Eye Associates.

As time goes on, , that smear gets more and more dense, robbing you of your fine vision. “Everything that lets you read and recognize faces.”

AMD is a progressive disease affecting one or both eyes. It causes damage to the macula, a spot near the center of the retina that is needed for sharp, straight-ahead vision. “Well, it can get to the point where you can't read at all; you can’t see the center of anything you are looking at,” says Dr. McCabe.

Everyday activities like cooking, housework, and watching TV may seem almost impossible, and loss of the ability to drive can make it easier to stay home. “Think if it was you or me, and we were told one day that we can't drive our cars anymore,” says Susan Marty of Lighthouse of Manasota.

A study of two groups of patients with AMD conducted at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia finds the group receiving behavior activation therapy with support on making changes around the home and using low vision devices had best results and reduced the risk of depression.

“It's amazing what lighting and contrast and some of the little things that you can do to enhance the vision that you do still have,” says vision rehab specialist Niki Kissel.

One of the things that Lighthouse of Manasota offers people with low or poor vision is a cutting board like this that has contrast.  There's a black side, there's a white side, and it helps people be a little bit safer in the kitchen.  “Put a placemat in the table underneath the white plate,” suggests Kissel.

She says friends and family can help.  “It’s as simple as saying ‘Hi, it’s Nikki’ when you walk in.”

Lighthouse of Manasota is a wonderful resource for Suncoast residents with vision loss. In 2015 they will celebrate their 30th anniversary of serving the Suncoast community.