Vision Loss Linked to Higher Risk of Depression

Physicians are increasingly being called upon to include aspects of mental health screenings into their regular exams. A physician who prescribes medication for pain, for example, may screen a patient for a history of substance abuse before prescribing a pain medication known to have addictive qualities.

Following a recent study conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, mental health screenings may soon be incorporated into regular eye examinations. The study found that more than 10 percent of individuals with vision problems also meet criteria for the diagnosis of depression.

The study included 10,500 participants and appears in a recent issue of the journal JAMA Ophthalmology. It finds that depression occurs at a rate of 11.3 percent among those who report vision loss, compared with a rate of 4.8 percent for those with healthy eyes.

The findings show that adults who report vision loss are 90 percent more at risk for depression than those with no vision problems.

The study’s findings provide new insight into a possible connection between depression and vision loss. While the connection has been widely examined among older adults, this is the first study to look at vision loss and depression across the entire U.S. adult population.

The study’s data was obtained using the 2005-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Led by Xinzhi Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Institutes of Health, the team analyzed the survey’s findings on adults over the age of 20, including demographics, medical history and family history.

The participants were more than 50 percent female, and 70 percent were white. Approximately one-quarter were smokers and the adults commonly reported conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. The mean age of the participants was 47.

The participants were asked about any limitations related to vision, such as difficulty in reading the newspaper, navigating stairs and driving during daylight hours. The patients’ eyesight was evaluated using standard vision charts while the participants wore their own glasses or contacts.

The rates of depression varied among the three age groups. Among those participants between the ages of 20 and 39, those with vision problems had a rate of depression at 13 percent, versus 4.7 percent for those with healthy eyes. For those between the ages of 40 and 59, the depression rate for those with vision problems was 11.5 percent, versus 6 percent for those with healthy eyes. Among those 60 years and older, the rate was 9.6 percent versus 3 percent.

The researchers also found that those with more serious vision problems also had more severe depressive symptoms.

The researchers explain that the connection between vision problems and depression could be related to other factors, including the limitations that vision loss can cause. In addition, the association is likely to be bidirectional, with both conditions causing the worsening of the other.

The authors of the study also note that individuals with depression may be less likely to seek out the care they need for visual impairment, compared with individuals who do not have depression.

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