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Fighting the Macular Degeneration Blues

Age-related macular degeneration, in which patients slowly lose their vision, affects as many as 13 million Americans. It is the most common cause of older adult disability and as many as one-third of patients subsequently suffer from depression.

But as CBS 2’s Paul Moniz reports, there are devices and strategies you can use to make living enjoyable and ward off the blues.

Marion Merrow, who has macular degeneration, was forced to give up driving.

"When the yellow lines didn't look quite like they should, it was time that I gave that up, and that was really hard," she says.

Merrow also had to stop cooking and can no longer read. Doctors say it's the loss of reading ability that can be most devastating.

"Reading is so much a part of our lives, whether it's to look at the label on a food can or your medications," says Dr. Barry Rovner, who is launching a year-long study aimed at preventing depression in macular degeneration patients.

Two hundred and thirty patients who do not suffer from depression, including Merrow, will be divided into two groups, one receiving coaching in problem solving, such as reorganizing cabinets to make things easier to find, and the other group receiving no coaching. The goal is to determine if simple changes in routine can prevent the macular blues.

Dr. Rovner says depression in this group is sorely undertreated. He estimates as few as 1% of patients who need treatment actually receive antidepressant drugs or mental health counseling.

"They don't think about it as a treatable condition and so it doesn't get treated even though it is treatable," he says.

Dorothy Donovan, 90, refuses to get down over her macular degeneration, which she has had for nearly 20 years. She credits high-powered magnifying glasses called low-vision aids with helping her maintain a positive attitude. Other devices include telephones with oversized buttons, large-type playing cards, and even special light bulbs that cast a softer glow.

She shares some advice with other sufferers.

"Just take it in stride. There's so much help out there. Get it and get on with your life," she instructs.

Vision-loss experts at Lighthouse International stress the importance of seeing both a retina specialist and a doctor who treats low vision if you have macular degeneration. Since there is no cure, you have to watch the progression closely, but staying active socially and keeping busy with hobbies are powerful weapons.
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