How To Prevent Depression in Your Low Vision Patients

by Chief Clinical Editor: Richard Shuldiner, OD, FAAO & Guest Writer: Bryan Wolynski, OD, FAAO

Imagine you are a patient with a severe condition, and your doctor says, “Nothing more can be done”. Sounds terrible. How would you feel? I know this is something I would never want to hear, but this is precisely what many of our patients with low vision are being told. They leave your office more scared, nervous, and often more depressed and, in some cases, suicidal.

I have had many low-vision patients who are desperate and scared after seeing many other eye doctors in hopes of getting help. They hope that I will be the one to give them that magic pair of eyeglasses as an answer to their vision loss. Of course, there are no “magic glasses”, but low-vision doctors can help them move forward and not into a downward spiral. We can help to alleviate those feelings of anxiety and depression, give them hope for the future, and offer low-vision devices to improve function and quality of life.

The NEI reports that by 2050, the number of visually impaired people will double. This means most of us will likely encounter more patients with vision loss and depression. The Depression in Visual Impairment Trial studies the best approach to treating depression in vision loss. But what if you’re not a low vision specialist, or you do not have the necessary equipment or aids available to help? You can do a lot.

  1. Inform them of low vision services. Just saying, “Do a Google search of low vision care” (or take a few moments and do one with them) can make the difference. Many of my patients find me through the internet and wish their doctor had said something.
  2. Explain their eye disease. Many patients experiencing vision loss do not understand what is happening or their diagnosis. Sometimes, just understanding the disease process and what is happening to their vision can help them be more accepting of the available tools or devices.
  3. Provide high-power reading glasses. Most low-vision patients often need basic higher-power reading glasses, which any eye care practitioner can easily provide. Don’t be afraid to prescribe a high power add, like a +4 or +5. Some labs can accommodate and provide resources that can help you.
  4. If you know one, refer to a low-vision specialist. You or your staff can find out who your local low-vision doctors are and refer to them. They are not there to steal your patient and will happily send them back to you with a prescription in hand if needed and to continue eye health services.
  5. Provide low-vision resources. A great resource is the Vision Aware Program by the American Foundation for the Blind.

Don’t leave your patients anxious, depressed, and nervous. Help them navigate the world of low-vision resources and be their advocate. Simple things you can do, like any of the above, can make a huge difference and put your patient with vision loss on the right path. Just think to yourself, “There is something I can do”.