Nov. 11, 2002 -- A simple, six-week program can help people who have age-related macular degeneration, especially if they're also depressed.
The most common cause of permanent vision loss among the elderly, age-related macular degeneration carries an enormous burden of distress and disability, writes researcher Barbara Brody, MPH, professor of ophthalmology with the Shiley Eye Center at the University of California, San Diego.
Her study appears in this month's Archives of Ophthalomology.
Helping people manage their daily living problems has been shown to help others with chronic conditions, like asthma, arthritis, and cancer, she says. Her pilot study focusing on age-related macular degeneration showed similar positive results.
Brody's program consists of group-support sessions that help people solve their daily-living problems, which has an important added benefit -- it improves their mood.
To test the effectiveness of her program, Brody enrolled 231 people with age-related macular degeneration -- all of whom were age 60 or older. One-third, or 86 patients, were assigned to support groups of 8 to 10 people, and met weekly in two-hour sessions for six weeks. One-third, or 74 patients, received a set of recorded health lectures to listen to on their own. The rest (71) were placed on a waiting list for the support group program.
During the support sessions, various professionals spoke with the group, helping guide them through practical problem-solving. They also suggested ways to maintain or increase activity levels, and talked about visual aids and services that could help.
Another topic: The barriers each patient felt in their independence. They were encouraged to feel more confident about making progress -- about the possibilities as they built their skills for self-sufficiency.
"We talked frankly about the disease and gave them up-to-date information, which they said they wanted," Brody says in a news release. "We discussed how the disease affected them and what was personally meaningful to them."
Helping patients talk with others about vision loss is an important hurdle, says Brody. They have much frustration and distress, and nobody has helped them work this through, she adds.
Through tests that measure mood, visual function, self-confidence, and outlook, researchers documented a drop in depression and anxiety as a result of the program, Brody reports.
"The improvement was especially significant in patients who tested as depressed before the program," she says.
These early results show that this kind of intervention needs to be pursued to determine long-term impact on emotional well-being, adds Robert Kaplan, chair of family and preventive services at UCSD, in a news release.