Sight and Mood in Seniors

Study links vision loss with anxiety and depression


When older adults suffer from vision loss, they have a higher probability of demonstrating depression and anxiety. Similarly, older adults who show evidence of anxiety or depression have a higher probability of developing vision impairment. The data, from a U.S. National Health and Aging Trends Study, were presented in JAMA Ophthalmology (online May 16, 2019) and cited in a Reuters story by Will Boggs, MD.

According to the study's senior author, Dr. Joshua R. Ehrlich from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, "Older adults are at a high risk for vision problems compared to other segments of the population. Vision impairment, particularly in later life, has many consequences beyond not seeing clearly, including an increased risk of mood disorders."

The study, which used data from more than 7,500 older men and women, discovered that many more people with impaired vision reported symptoms of depression than people who did not have vision problems: 31 percent as opposed to 13 percent. That was also the case for anxiety symptoms, reported by 27 percent of people with vision impairment and 11 percent of people without it, according to the article in JAMA Ophthalmology. More than 40 percent of people with impaired vision had either depression or anxiety symptoms, compared with just under 19 percent of people who did not suffer from impaired vision.

While people who had impaired vision were also 33 percent more inclined than people without it to report new symptoms of depression over time, that was not the case for anxiety. Additionally, people with symptoms of depression were 37 percent more inclined to develop impaired vision in the future than people who did not have depression, and people who had anxiety symptoms were 55 percent more inclined than people without anxiety.

As Ehrlich explained, "Vision loss is associated with many adverse health consequences beyond not seeing clearly. Poor vision not only increases the risk of mood disorders, but also cognitive decline, falls, loss of independence, and even mortality. However, poor vision is not an inevitable part of aging, and an estimated 80 percent of vision loss is preventable or treatable. Accordingly, vision care is a vital component of promoting overall health, well-being, and optimal aging."

Dr. Marina Ribeiro from Universidade Federal de Alagoas in Maceio, Brazil, added, "In our clinical practice, we observe exactly this, that advanced age associated with low visual acuity generally leads to mood and anxiety disorders. This is of clinical relevance, because it works as a warning to family members, who should seek psychological and psychiatric attention for patients with low visual acuity if they observe any change in mood. No one should underestimate the mood swings in patients with low visual acuity," Ribeiro added.

Dr. Hilde van der Aa from Amsterdam University Medical Center in The Netherlands, observed, "What is new and most interesting about this study in my opinion is its bidirectional focus on the longitudinal association between visual impairment and mental health. Both mental healthcare professionals and eye care professionals should be aware of the bidirectional association between visual impairment and mental health, to be able to offer tailored support and timely referrals from which patients could directly benefit."



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