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Low vision and vision loss

Emotions following the diagnosis

It’s common for those newly diagnosed with a vision-loss condition to feel anxious and depressed. Understandably!

They worry about losing their independence. Also, that they will need help with many activities of life. This in turn suggests a loss of privacy. Many newly diagnosed persons report a lack of confidence, feelings of worthlessness.

If this describes your loved one, allow them time to grieve. Time to mentally and emotionally adjust. They might even benefit from the assistance of a counselor or therapist.

And take heart. There is good reason to believe that your loved one’s attitude will come around. A survey of older adults who are living with significant vision loss revealed that 84% report feeling more positive and confident now than they did when they were first diagnosed.

Those respondents who expressed a willingness to adapt continued to lead full and rewarding lives. They felt they were still in control. Paradoxically, such resilience was best achieved by those who reached out for help.

Here’s what those with vision loss recommended for people newly diagnosed:

  • Join a low-vision support group. Learn that you are not alone. At the least, find a person with the same vision-loss condition to share concerns and solutions.
  • Learn about the condition and advocate for your needs.
  • Ask the doctor for a referral to a low-vision specialist for adjustment classes. For instance, adaptive living skills to learn how to prepare meals and modify the house for independence. Or orientation and mobility classes to learn balance and navigation.
  • Be open to new devices and technology.
  • Find out about local vision support services.
  • Be patient. Take one day at a time.

As a family caregiver, you will have your own emotional response to the diagnosis. It’s natural to want to “help.” Rather than do things for your loved one, help them stay independent and in control of their life. Doubtless they will experience frustration and challenges. You will need to be patient and encourage them to figure out how to do things anew. Demonstrating your belief in their ability to overcome problems will be the greatest service of all.

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Slowing the progression of glaucoma

Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness among older adults. It causes pressure in the eyeball to build up to a point that the optic nerve is damaged. There is no cure or repair.

Fortunately, glaucoma’s progression can be slowed and blindness prevented. Your relative can remain active and fully engaged with life.

Steady wins the race.

  • Consistent use of medication. Prescription eye drops are key to reducing eye pressure. They are often taken two or three times a day. Skipping a dose or skimping on the absorption time reduces their effectiveness. No cutting corners!
  • Frequent aerobic exercise. Physical activity is good, especially aerobics, which promotes a strong blood flow to the optic nerve. A brisk 20-minute walk three or more times a week will help preserve vision and also stave off depression.
  • Eliminate head-down positions. Yoga is an excellent calming exercise that can help address emotions surrounding a glaucoma diagnosis. But your loved one should steer clear of positions such as the “downward dog.” The head should not be lower than the heart.
  • Avoid holding the breath. Anything that causes the eyes to “bulge out” is raising the pressure inside. Weight lifting is not advised. Neither is straining on the toilet.

Diet. Green leafy vegetables are good for general eye health, and a high-fiber diet relieves constipation. Special supplements have been shown to be helpful for other vision conditions, but not for glaucoma.

Caffeine can increase eye pressure (bad), while alcohol and marijuana can decrease it (good). The effects of all three are minor and last only a few hours. As a result, moderation is the wisest course.

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Age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a very common condition affecting the retina of the eye. It causes blurry vision and dark spots in the center of the visual field. This makes it challenging to read, drive, and recognize faces. Although AMD typically gets worse over time, it does not lead to total blindness. It is, however, a leading cause of legal blindness (vision of 20/200 rather than 20/20).

Peripheral vision. AMD permanently reduces vision in the direct line of sight. To compensate, your loved one can learn to rely on peripheral vision (to the side). We are all used to peering directly at an object to see it better. With practice, though, many with AMD adapt to looking from the side—even to read or watch TV.

Ways to slow the progression

Several lifestyle changes have proven effective. You cannot make your loved one adopt them. But you can ask if they would like support and how best you can help.

  • Stop smoking. Research shows this is one of the best ways to slow progression. Reducing or eliminating secondhand smoke is also quite effective.
  • Eat green leafy vegetables daily and fish twice a week. Spinach, kale, and collards provide antioxidants. Salmon, sardines, mackerel, and tuna reduce inflammation.
  • Take the AREDS supplements. A study by the National Eye Institute (Age-Related Eye Disease Study) revealed key daily supplements that slowed—and in some cases halted—AMD. Specifically, 500 mg of vitamin C, 400 iu of vitamin E, 10 mg lutein, 2 mg zeaxanthin, 80 mg zinc, 2 mg copper. Check with the ophthalmologist for reliable sources of this combination.
  • Reduce simple sugars and starches. Best to avoid those that go directly to the bloodstream: Candy, soda, potatoes, white rice, and baked goods with white flour. With the exception of watermelon, fruits are fine. Their sugars take a while to digest.

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