Mental Health and AMD

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on April 21, 2023
3 min read

When you find out that you have age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or that it’s progressing, it can bring many emotions. You may feel a loss of independence and a load of frustration. You just want to do your crossword or read a food label without struggling to see. 

Vision loss affects your mental health and has links to loneliness, social isolation, worry, anxiety, and fear. Research shows that people with AMD have greater odds of being diagnosed with anxiety and depression. And getting older makes this even more likely: Studies have found that depression is common in older adults with AMD.

Feelings of deep sadness or anxiety are not due to aging. They are signs of depression, a serious mood disorder that can affect the way you feel, think, and act.  

Older adults are at an increased risk of depression because 80% have at least one lasting, or chronic, health condition and 50% have two or more illnesses, which can limit your ability to function. Social isolation is a significant cause of depression among older adults. Humans need social connections to thrive.

If you’re looking for signs in a loved one, know that depression can look different in older adults. 

The symptoms are persistent and may include:

  • Difficulty concentrating and remembering 
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities
  • Decreased energy and fatigue 
  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or worthlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Overeating or a lack of appetite
  • Persistent aches and pains 
  • Digestive problems
  • Thoughts or attempts of suicide

The good news is that depression is treatable. Often doctors recommend a combination of both medication (such as antidepressants) and psychotherapy (talk therapy). 

If you feel down and you want to harm yourself, tell someone and get help right away. Call a friend, family member, or neighbor. You can call 988 or go to a hospital emergency room to get immediate help. Make an appointment with your doctor.

Your life can be meaningful even though you may need to change how you do some of your hobbies or tasks. Ask your doctor which tools and services can help you live better with vision loss. For example, magnifiers to help read and rehab services can help you set up your home so you can get around with greater ease.

Be sure to protect your vision. Keep up with regular eye exams. Use brighter lights at home so you don’t have to strain.

Protect your overall health. Quit smoking and control your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Get regular exercise and stay at a healthy weight. Physical activity causes your body to release “feel-good” chemicals called endorphins that help you feel calmer and happier.  Try to get quality sleep (7 to 9 hours).  A lack of sleep can make depression symptoms worse. 

Eat a healthy diet. You can’t cure depression with diet alone, but research points to healthy eating having a positive effect on anxiety and depression symptoms. Make sure to get lots of omega-3 fatty acids and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin -- the main carotenoids found in the retina and macula that protect vision. Choose kale, spinach, tuna, halibut, and salmon. 

Connect with a therapist. If it’s hard for you to get to a doctor’s office, many therapists offer virtual or telehealth appointments where you can talk from home on a laptop or phone.

Make adjustments. Even with low vision, you can tweak things around your home so you can do most of the things you need to do or enjoy on your own. Adaptive devices and home organization skills can make independent life easier and give you a feeling of control.  

Line up a support team. This may include your eye doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, primary care provider, and low-vision therapist. It’s important to educate yourself by asking questions at your appointments. Research support groups in your area or ask your doctor for referrals. Being around others who have a similar experience to yours can make the burden seem lighter and show you different ways to manage your situation.