Many people who are diagnosed with AMD go through a short period of mild depression as they grieve their vision loss and adjust their lives. But others experience prolonged periods of depression that are unhealthy for the body and spirit.
Our goal at Macular Degeneration Partnership is to remind you that you are not alone. Some of the information here is reprinted in part from the 2003 book “Macular Degeneration: The Complete Guide to Saving and Maximizing Your Sight”, written Dr. Lylas Mogk, MD, an ophthalmologist specializing in low vision at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Dr. Mogk’s book is available at Amazon or other book retail sources.
- We know a great deal more about depression than we did twenty or thirty years ago. We know that it’s not a sign of weakness, laziness, or moral failure. We know that depression happens to people who have no other psychological difficulties. We know that depression can happen later in life even if you’ve never been depressed before and we know that depression is very common among people with low vision. There is nothing shameful about it, but there is something very tragic about living with depression without getting help.
- Many seniors make the mistake of thinking they should strong-arm their way out of depression. They think that if they can’t strong-arm their way out, there’s something wrong with them. Worst of all, they think they just have to live with it.
Consider the list below and ask yourself whether or not any of these symptoms are familiar:
- Frequently feeling apathetic or unmotivated
- Frequently feeling agitated, empty, or numb
- Feeling negatively about yourself or frequently pessimistic
- Withdrawing socially
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too little or too much)
- Losing or gaining more than 5 percent of your body weight in a month
- Noticeable decrease in energy
- Unexplained episodes of crying
What Causes Depression with Macular Degeneration?
- Depression with macular degeneration may arise from deep feelings of rage, grief or frustration, from isolation or loneliness, from prolonged inactivity or boredom, from self-judgment, from fearing the future, or from feeling out of control with or without options. Some people may be genetically predisposed to depression. Your diet and exercise patterns may also make a difference. Losing your driver’s license may be a factor in experiencing depression, especially if you’ve always relied on cars. It may also affect your sense of independence and may contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
- Depression is a real physiological condition, not just a bad attitude. Research suggests that stressful situations and significant losses in our lives affect the production and regulation of chemicals in our brains that influence our emotional state and our immune system. Once you are depressed, you may remain depressed if you do not receive professional help and take direct action, because the balance of chemicals in your brain may actually promote or at least sustain your depression.
- If your depression was triggered by loneliness, isolation or inactivity, it is unlikely to lift from thinking alone. You need to address the root of the problem. The more you do, the better.
Tips for Treating Depression
- The first thing you should do is talk to your doctor. Don’t be embarrassed to ask about anti-depressant medications or alternative treatments. Then act on his or her advice.
- If alcoholism runs in your family, or if you are sensitive to sugar, ask your doctor about a balanced carbohydrate-protein diet designed to keep your glucose levels stable.
- Begin a regular routine of physical exercise, which has been shown to be an effective remedy for depression in many people.
- Attend a visual rehabilitation program in your area.
- Increase your social circle, whether you live alone or with family. Cultivate your interests and make new friends.
- Find and use alternative modes of transportation. Buses, taxis and private services like Uber/Lyft can restore your independence if you have given up your car.
- Seek professional counseling, especially counseling that complements visual rehabilitation, by helping you express your feelings, focus on your skills and combat self-judging or limited thoughts.