When older folks develop visual impairment, their mobility and independence are limited. This threat to their comfort can lead to elevated rates of depression and anxiety, according to a newly issued JAMA Ophthalmology study.

A University of Michigan research team used regression models to evaluate the associations between self-reported visual impairment and depression and anxiety symptoms in 7,584 participants (aged 65 to 74 years). They found symptoms of depression and anxiety were significantly more common in participants with self-reported visual impairment than those without self-reported visual impairment. Additionally, baseline self-reported vision status was significantly associated with future reports of depression, but not anxiety. Both baseline depression and anxiety symptoms were significantly associated with future reports of self-reported visual impairment.

The study suggests a significant bidirectional and longitudinal association between self-reported visual impairment and mental health symptoms, the study’s authors report. Furthermore, the study suggests optometrists can better serve these patients by developing effective screening strategies and referrals for depression and anxiety counseling among patients older than 65 with vision impairment.

Frank C, Xiang P, Stagg B, Ehrlich J. Longitudinal associations of self-reported vision impairment with symptoms of anxiety and depression among older adults in the United States. JAMA Ophthalmol. May 16, 2019. [Epub ahead of print].