Elders, Eye Health and Depression

  • A study about the connection between an elder's eyesight and depression was conducted recently at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. The study showed that elders that don't get their eyesight checked regularly, and their glasses updated, showed more signs of depression.


    This shouldn't surprise anyone. Many elders don't hear well. They have other health problems. They lose so much outside stimulation, that if their eyesight isn't kept as sharp as possible, they will just decline more. Of course they get depressed.


    My dad was a voracious reader. I still remember saying to my mom, as Dad's health problems increased, that he'd be happy anywhere as long as he had a pile of books by his side. He would have been, had he been able, by the time he went to a nursing home, to read. Unfortunately, the surgery which kicked off his dementia made it impossible for him to comprehend what he read. And his eyes grew so dim that, even with the help of a magnifying glass - which we had an abundance of since he'd been a stamp collector - he couldn't see to read, even if he could have comprehended the words.

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    After brain the surgery put him in the nursing home, I desperately tried every imaginable approach. I went to the library and got large print books. That's when we found out that he couldn't remember and comprehend enough of what he read to make reading pleasurable. I tried books on tape, but his damaged brain even made this impossible for him to enjoy. I tried reading to him, but it made him feel infantile. I know a certain amount of his depression stemmed from the loss of his ability to read, which had always been one of his greatest pleasures.


    Still, I did everything I could to keep his eyesight going. I made sure all of my elders got to their eye doctor and got their glasses upgraded. This was difficult with Dad, and I'm not too sure how well we succeeded, as he couldn't take a regular eye test. But we did our best - the doctor and I.


    Dad, like many dementia patients, was afraid of the equipment used, and he couldn't comprehend the directions from the doctor during the exam. Still, the doctor did his best, and we got new glasses. Dad's glasses had always been thick and heavy, though plastic lenses helped. Still, he had trouble keeping them on. He'd get sores, so I found pads for the nose pieces, pads for his ears. The glasses would fall off and he'd sit on them. I tried the straps that athletes use, but they never worked and he hated the band around his head. So, he'd sit on them and I'd get them fixed.


    Mom also frequently lost hers or broke them. I'd get them replaced. It did get tiring. But I knew it had to be done.


    The nursing home had a volunteer optician who would occasionally come by to help tighten up loose bows and straighten out bent frames, but it wasn't often enough to be of much help for my family. I'm sure I wore out a set of tires just running errands with eyeglasses and taking people for those exams. Did it help them? Was it worth it?


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    For Mom, it worked. She could still do her crossword puzzles, so I kept two sets of glasses so when one was getting fixed, or she misplaced them in her room, she'd have another set. For Dad, it was more about the effort and the desperation to do anything that would make his life easier. If it helped him see Lawrence Welk more clearly on TV; if it helped him read a headline from our community newspaper; if it just made him feel more cared for - then it was worth every effort.


    My own eyes blur with tears, as I type. I'm remembering how much he lost as his vision failed. I'm remembering how desperate he was to read anything at all. Yes, every effort was worthwhile, even though only some of it was successful. Once more, as a caregiver, I did my imperfect best.


    For more information about Carol go to www.mindingourelders.com or www.mindingoureldersblogs.com.

Published On: December 04, 2007