Confronting the Emotions of Vision Loss
Learn some helpful tips and advice on managing the emotional impact of vision loss.
As a geriatric psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University, Deirdre Johnston, MD has worked with numerous patients confronting the emotional impact of vision loss. She shared her observations and tips during a June 2017 BrightFocus Chat, a free monthly teleforum.
Her advice to those with low vision: by directly confronting the impact of a vision disorder you will feel more, not less, empowered. Gather as much information as you can, taking advantage of available resources to help you adapt to and manage your disease. Don’t try to go it alone, however: use your team of family and friends, as well as experts, to enhance your daily life and keep depression or anxiety at bay.
Knowledge is Power: Learn as Much as Possible
Johnston notes that many people with vision loss fear they will lose their independence, or their ability to function in everyday life.
The first step in addressing that fear is to gather information and learn as much as you can about your vision disorder. This will be your greatest asset, says Johnston, as you navigate the medical system, advocate for yourself, and weigh your options for improving daily life and your environment.
The doctor who first diagnosed your condition can be a source of information about resources, and may refer you to specialists, such as an occupational therapist who can help you make your home environment safe, or help you adapt to tools such as enlarged type on computers, or audio functions on cell phones.
To feel less alone and connect with persons who have gone through what you have, “I would strongly recommend engaging in support groups,” notes Johnston. There, one can get sympathy and encouragement from peers, ask questions, and get feedback. This resource is “hugely helpful.”
How to find support groups and other resources? Local religious institutions such as churches or synagogues may have information, or check with your state department of human services. For this and other resources, you could also try contacting organizations such as the Lighthouse Guild, the Center for the Visually Impaired, and the American Foundation for the Blind. BrightFocus Foundation also offers a wealth of information about macular degeneration and glaucoma.
Is It Grief, or Depression?
Grieving over the loss of vision is normal and understandable, but if grief starts to interfere with everyday functioning, that is a sign of depression. Since persons with low vision are at increased risk for depression and anxiety, it pays to find supports to lower that risk.
One tool is a type of psychotherapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy, says Johnston. The therapy “helps you reframe negative thinking, assumptions and perceptions in a way that allows you to work with them and overcome them.” It also “helps you develop new strategies and techniques so you are feeling more in control of things.”
Focusing on what you can do, not on what you can’t, “is an ongoing process, but it can be very empowering,” she notes. Anxiety is understandable when facing vision loss, “but you can learn to manage it, and that can make a very big difference.”
Don’t Isolate: Engage Your Team
Persons with low vision sometimes isolate themselves from their friends and family. But this puts you more at risk for depression and other health conditions, including lower cognitive function. Use your energy to fight this inclination, by keeping your connections to your friends and family.
“They are your team,” adds Johnston, “so keep them in the picture.” They can help you in the effort to feel more independent and in control.
In fact, Johnston believes all of society would benefit from a deeper and more sensitive understanding of life with low vision. “I believe that all of us would be better off if people would acknowledge that everybody is not perfect. The more open we can be about the challenges of aging, the more we can bend society in the direction, I think, that it needs to go.”