Improve Eyesight to Aid Elders' Mental Health
> 6/10/2008 3:07:00 PM


As we grow older, poor eyesight can prevent us from engaging in activities we used to enjoy, so it is not surprising that the depression symptoms of some nursing home residents may be tied to vision problems. In 2007, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham examined the connection between eye problems and depression in 17 nursing homes, concluding that better eye care improves residents' quality of life.

The researchers, led by Dr. Cynthia Owsley, surveyed nursing home residents with uncorrected eye problems. 78 residents received corrective glasses one week after the initial exam. 64 residents did not receive glasses until after the follow-up exam, where all participants were again examined for signs of depression. Compared to those who had not yet received new glasses, those who had worn glasses for two months scored higher on a health-related quality-of-life questionnaire. They reported improvements in their ability to read, write, play cards, watch TV, and use the telephone. They were also more likely to interact socially with others and had fewer symptoms of depression.

Residents in nursing homes may have poor eyesight for many reasons, often because they cannot find transportation to an eye doctor and because only about 12% of nursing homes provide eye care services on-site. Poor eyesight can exacerbate other health problems that interfere with daily functioning, so seniors with eye problems are more likely to be admitted to a nursing home in the first place. Nursing home residents are 15 times more likely to have poor vision compared with seniors who live independently. Unfortunately, many residents do not receive the eye care they need, sometimes because caregivers and family members believe that new glasses won’t benefit someone who is physically and mentally impaired, although clearly this is not the case.

With age, we may experience lengthy illnesses, lose much of our independence, and watch family and friends pass, all of which make depression a more common affliction for older members of society. But by helping seniors resume activities they may have foregone due to poor vision, we can help them to improve their mental health and reduce the number of nursing home residents who struggle with depression.

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