Occupational Therapy And Decreasing Depression in Visually Impaired
This article was reviewed by Tre S., OTR/L.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that older adults in the United States have an increased risk of depression due to changes in their health and social life. Visual impairment is a contributing factor that affects older adults in different ways. These older adults struggle to cope with the effects of low vision and in turn begin to show signs of depression as their quality of life decreases due to the complications. A research study published in the journal of Investigative Opthalmology & Visual Science overviews these effects in detail. The study gathered peer reviewed research and found that 10% to 30% of visually impaired patients, specifically with Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), develop clinically significant depression. Furthermore, it found that the complications of depression in connection with AMD can lead to higher mortality rates, medical costs, and levels of disability (Deemer, Massof, Rovner, Casten, Piersol 1).
Older adults may struggle with the transition from life with normal vision to life with low vision. Activities of daily living (ADLs) and Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) such as driving a car, making a cup of coffee, or simply getting dressed in the morning become increasingly difficult tasks that require the help of a family member or caregiver. This loss in independence is one of the leading factors that contribute to late-life depression in older adults.
Occupational therapists play a key role in helping clients to adjust to the changes they experience as they navigate the murky waters of living with low vision. Johns Hopkins researchers found that occupational therapy intervention for low vision older adults seems to reduce the rate and severity of depression. The study by Deemer et. al. found that clients who improve their independence in activities of daily living (ADLs) with an occupational therapist experience lower severity of depression, in comparison to those who did not work with an occupational therapist. These ADLs included tasks such as cooking, using a computer, or reading mail. The research revealed that the group who received occupational therapy intervention experienced depression at much lower rates than the group who did not receive intervention (Deemer, Massof, Rovner, Casten, Piersol 5).
Researchers in the study concluded that while occupational therapy is covered under Medicare, the service appears to be tragically underutilized. Comprehensive low vision rehabilitation services include a full team of specialists ranging from optometrists to other rehabilitative therapists and that includes occupational therapists. Occupational therapy at its core involves enabling individuals across the lifespan to do the things they want and need to do, regardless of injury, illness, or disability. Therapists can work with patients with low vision to prevent accidents and injuries, teach new skills, modify tasks and environments, and promote healthy lifestyles through their interventions. When utilized, occupational therapists may play a vital role in improving the quality of life of those living with low vision.