Maintaining Your Sanity, Social Connections, and Emotional Resilience Amid Geographic Atrophy

Nurturing Your Mind, Relationships, and Inner Health While Coping with Geographic Atrophy

Through the Hazy Lens: Living with Geographic Atrophy

By Judith Goldstein, OD, as told to Keri Wiginton

Geographic atrophy (GA) is like a mischievous magician playing tricks on your vision. It’s no wonder people find it visually confusing. One moment the words on a page make perfect sense, and the next moment they morph into something entirely different. It’s like reading “she” but seeing only “he.” Or glancing at a price tag and seeing $12, only for it to transform into $129 when you double-check. It’s enough to make you wonder: What’s the real price?

As the disease progresses, your central vision can pull a disappearing act, going grey or white when you look straight ahead. It’s as if the universe decided to play a cosmic prank on you. And let’s face it, it’s easy to get scared or frustrated when your visual world becomes a whirlwind of uncertainty. These sight setbacks can even lead to feelings of depression or anxiety, turning your life into a roller coaster ride you never signed up for.

But here’s what I see most often as an optometrist specialized in low vision: people with GA get really frustrated. It’s like a slow-motion movie where everything takes longer and becomes a never-ending struggle. Suddenly, simple tasks that used to be effortless require relying on others. Paying bills and driving to the store become challenges that threaten your independence, and that’s what really gets under your skin.

But fear not, my friends, for I am here to guide you through the fog. As your trusty low-vision optometrist, I specialize in helping you navigate the complex web of mental, emotional, and physical impacts caused by GA. Together, we can uncover the magical solutions that will make your life easier.

The Vortex of Confusion: Unraveling the Mystery

Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of why GA plays these mind-bending tricks on your vision. You see, your everyday experience might not align with what your retina specialist tells you. Your eyesight, according to the eye chart, might seem perfectly fine, yet you struggle to read or spot obstacles on the sidewalk. What gives?

Well, GA is like a sneaky thief stealing the cells of your macula, which is responsible for your central vision. It’s the part of your eye that captures all the juicy details and vibrant colors when you look straight at things, ensuring you don’t miss a beat. But GA doesn’t stop there—it also creates a “doughnut” of damage around the macula in its early stages, leaving pockets of your visual field missing. Suddenly, reading labels or shopping becomes a game of guesswork, requiring multiple takes and leaving you scratching your head.

You may be wondering why numbers are tougher to read than words. Allow me to shed some light on the matter. When you look at a sentence, your eyes don’t just focus on one character at a time. Oh no, we humans are much more efficient than that. Our eyes take in a whole visual span, capturing three characters to the left and maybe seven characters to the right, every time we lock onto a letter or number. It’s like our eyes have secret agents working in teams to bring us the full picture. Sneaky, right?

This quirk of your visual system may leave your loved ones perplexed. They can’t fathom how you spot a tiny thread on the floor but struggle to read anything else. It’s like your eyes play hide-and-seek with the world. But fear not, dear friends, for within this chaos lies a method—you possess a special power called peripheral vision. When you drop something, your eyes secretly shift to the side, revealing the hidden thread or object. It’s like magic, and you, my friend, are the magician.

Oh, and speaking of magical powers, let’s not forget about contrast sensitivity. Rarely measured outside a low-vision evaluation, contrast sensitivity plays a pivotal role in your perception of faces. It’s like a superhero that ensures your skin doesn’t end up looking the same color as your lips. You don’t want to accidentally sport a monochromatic look, do you?

Cracking the Code: Avoiding Social Isolation

Your central vision’s hocus-pocus can cast a spell on your social life. Suddenly, party plans and events become a game of roulette, with driving at night becoming a risky endeavor. And even when you do venture out, spotting friendly faces from a distance becomes an Olympic sport.

Imagine transitioning into community living as you enter the golden years. The fear of being perceived as rude due to forgotten faces or reintroducing yourself haunts your every move. The embarrassment might even dissuade you from seeking new connections and experiences. But fear not, dear ones, for I hold the key to unlocking the door to a vibrant social life amidst the haze.

Here are some essential tips to keep loneliness at bay:

  1. Go to low-vision rehab – We low vision specialists are like the Yodas of adaptation. We won’t suddenly give you super-vision, but we teach you how to dance with your low vision, gracefully adapting to any challenges that come your way.

  2. Get your best corrective glasses – It may sound simple, but finding the perfect glasses requires some magic of its own. As your GA progresses, don’t be lured into the trap of stronger reading glasses. Less magnification might just be the key to clearer vision up close.

  3. Control the lighting – Become the master of light with stylish wide-brimmed hats or custom-tinted glasses. By controlling how light enters your eyes, you can enhance your vision and steal the show at any party.

  4. Ask for support – Don’t be afraid to call on your friends and family for assistance. They can be your trusty sidekicks, giving you a heads-up about who’s coming your way at the grocery store or social events. Your spouse can play the role of the friendly announcer, whispering, “Hey, that’s Sally coming down the aisle!”

  5. Call a car – GA might have stolen your driving privileges, but fear not! There’s a whole army of rideshare services and apps designed for older adults, ready to chauffeur you to your heart’s content. Plus, your doctor or local health department might have some hidden gems in the form of community ride options.

  6. Find new ways to socialize – Let’s add some excitement to your social calendar. Local senior or community centers offer a treasure trove of activities that suit your interests. If that’s not enough, we can even connect you with volunteer groups who will read to you or organize other delightful activities.

  7. Connect online – Embrace the beauty of technology! Luckily, almost everyone I treat owns a smartphone. Engage in online games like Words with Friends, and although your gaming partner might not physically be in front of you, you’re still socializing and connecting like a pro.

Unveiling the Solutions: Mastering the Art of Adaptation

Living with GA might seem like an uphill battle, but don’t despair, my friends. There are plenty of ways to improve your vision and reclaim your independence. However, it’s crucial to understand what is and isn’t achievable. Brace yourself—it’s time to face the truth.

Specialized devices can be your trusty companions when it comes to hobbies like stamp collecting or exploring paintings at museums. Many GA warriors find solace in the realm of electronic tablets, where they can continue their literary adventures without relying on printed materials.

But let’s be honest, there comes a point when you have to let go of the fantasy of driving through a dark, rainy night cross-country. It’s a bittersweet realization, but accepting your limitations is the key to unlocking a world of possibilities.

As you journey through your golden years, it’s often the small victories that bring the most joy. Being able to maintain control over your administrative tasks, managing your medication, or handling online banking can be the cornerstone of well-being. Sometimes, all it takes are these tiny triumphs to make you feel empowered and connected.

So, dear GA warriors, remember to focus on the activities that bring you joy and keep you connected. With the right low-vision modifications, we can conquer anything, no matter how challenging. Your passions and desires matter, and together, we will find ways to make them work for you.

The Shades of Emotion: Spotting Depression

Ah, the delicate dance with depression. People with GA often experience ups and downs, but overall, they manage to tread water. However, when these downs begin to outnumber the ups, and additional symptoms of depression creep in—such as excessive sleeping or appetite changes—it’s time to pay attention.

Please keep in mind that GA alone doesn’t trigger depression in most individuals. It’s only when you combine it with the physical losses that naturally accompany aging. But we must tread lightly when labeling certain behaviors as depression in older adults.

For example, if your loved one no longer frequents outings as much as they did in their younger years, it might not indicate deeper issues. They could simply be relishing the comfort of their own home—a sanctuary where time slows down and tranquility reigns.

The key lies in understanding the person’s baseline. How did they behave before their vision started troubling them? Engage in heartfelt conversations with your loved ones. Whether they’re a spouse, a friend, or a cherished family member, take the time to delve into their emotional landscape and ensure their mental well-being.

Hey there, incredible readers! What tricks has GA played on your vision? Share your experiences in the comments below. Remember, you’re not alone on this journey, and together, we can navigate the labyrinth of GA with humor and resilience. Stay magical and keep shining!