Vision loss can reduce your independence and may lead to isolation, anxiety, and depression. Taking steps such as talking with a therapist and seeking support can help you manage your mental health.

If living with geographic atrophy (GA) is affecting your mood, you’re not alone. Approximately 1 in 3 people with GA have withdrawn from their social lives due to the condition.

GA is an advanced form of dry macular degeneration, which affects your central vision. It can lead to vision loss or impairment. The effect of this on your life can, in turn, affect your mental health.

Research shows that GA can greatly affect a person’s functioning, quality of life, and ability to be independent due to its effect on their ability to:

  • read
  • drive
  • recognize faces
  • watch television
  • do household chores

People with GA have a high risk of developing clinical depression, fear, anxiety, and social isolation. This may be due to the effect of vision loss on their ability to care for themselves and on life in general. Vision loss from GA is also irreversible, which may contribute to anxiety.

In a study of mental health and visual acuity in people with different degrees of macular degeneration, those with GA scored lowest on a mental health questionnaire that asked questions such as, “How much of the time do you worry about your eyesight?” and “I feel frustrated a lot of the time because of my eyesight.”

People with GA in both eyes had lower scores than those with GA in one eye.

This may be due to factors such as:

  • inability to pursue valued activities
  • physical limitation
  • social isolation

Additionally, a study published in the journal Ophthalmic Epidemiology found that 1 in 4 participants with vision impairment reported feeling anxiety and depression.

If you’re living with GA, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Depression is a mood disorder that can affect how you feel, think, and perform daily activities. People may have depression if they experience some of the following symptoms nearly every day for at least 2 weeks:

  • sadness, anxiety, or “emptiness”
  • feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • irritability, frustration, or restlessness
  • loss of interest in hobbies or activities they once enjoyed
  • fatigue or decreased energy
  • difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • changes in sleep patterns, such as sleeping too much or too little
  • changes in weight or appetite
  • unexplained physical pains or other symptoms that don’t go away with treatment
  • thoughts of death or self-harm

Anxiety is a feeling of dread, fear, or apprehension. Most everyone experiences occasional anxiety in response to stressful situations. But if your anxiety is constant or overwhelming or interferes with your daily life, you may have an anxiety disorder.

There are several types of anxiety disorders, such as:

  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • panic disorder
  • social anxiety disorder
  • phobia-related disorders

Your exact symptoms may depend on the type of anxiety disorder you have. In general, symptoms of anxiety may include:

  • excessive fear or worry that is hard to control
  • feeling of impending doom
  • feeling restless or on edge
  • trouble concentrating
  • difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • pounding or rapid heart rate
  • sweating or trembling
  • unexplained aches and pains

While anxiety and depression with GA are understandable, it isn’t inevitable that you’ll experience them. There are many steps you can take to boost your mental health and live a full life with GA.

Try these strategies to take care of your mental and physical health:

Talk with your doctors

Talk with your primary care doctor about your emotions so they are aware, and work with them to manage your overall health and any other health issues that you have. In addition, talk with your eye doctor about how GA is affecting your mood.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, you may also want to speak with a therapist or other mental health professional. They can assess your symptoms and help you develop a treatment plan, which may include therapy and medication.

Find a low-vision eye doctor

If you haven’t already, try to find an eye doctor who specializes in low vision, as they can help you find devices and services that will maximize your quality of life.

According to the American Optometric Association, only about 20–25% of people who could benefit from low-vision treatment have seen a low-vision eye doctor.

Try visual rehabilitation

Rehabilitation options can help you stay safe and increase your independence, which in turn can help improve your mental health. If your eye doctor doesn’t provide such services themselves, they may be able to refer you to low-vision rehabilitation.

They can also refer you to other professionals, such as psychologists, vision rehabilitation therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, and assistive technology specialists.

Get regular exercise

It’s no secret that exercise is good for your mind as well as your body.

A review of 97 studies found that physical activity is effective at reducing symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression, stress, and anxiety compared with usual care for these conditions. This applies to people in the general population as well as those with chronic health conditions.

Many types of exercise can be adapted for people with low vision, including walking, swimming, and tandem biking. Talk with your eye doctor or visual rehabilitation specialist about how to exercise safely.

Stay connected to those you care about

Even though it may be more challenging than it was before your vision changed, staying in regular touch with your family and friends can help boost your mood. This might mean scheduling phone calls so they can check in on you. You can also use a rideshare app or community ride options to get to events.

Also, try to keep up your hobbies by adapting them or find new ones. This can include arts and crafts, playing music, adapted board games, or watching movies with audio descriptions.

Be open to meeting new people

There’s a tendency for many people to become more socially isolated as they get older, not just those with low vision. You can take advantage of activities organized by local senior or community centers to meet new people.

Your visual rehabilitation specialist might also be aware of volunteer groups who might read aloud or do other activities with people who have low vision.

Connect with other people who have GA

Ask your eye doctor or visual rehabilitation specialist about local groups, or visit MD Support to find a list of macular degeneration support groups near you.

Talking with people who understand what you’re going through can help you feel less alone. You may even discover new ways to manage GA and its effect on your mental health.

It can be tough to feel like you’re in control when you’re living with a life-altering condition like GA.

If you’re interested in advocating for yourself and other people with low vision, consider participating in a program such as the Center for Vision and Population Health’s ASPECT Program.

Vision loss or impairment due to geographic atrophy (GA) may contribute to depression, anxiety, or social withdrawal.

It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety if you have GA. There are many steps you can take to help improve your mental health, such as speaking with a mental health professional, staying active, and connecting with others who have GA.

If you’re struggling emotionally with GA, don’t hesitate to reach out to a loved one and your healthcare team. You — and your mental health — are worth it.