Blind World

Seniors with vision problems more likely to suffer depression.

October 19, 2004.

TORONTO (CP) - Eyesight may not necessarily be the first thing to go, but it's definitely cause for concern as the population ages, according to two new reports.

Seniors make up a disproportionate number of those suffering from vision problems, Statistics Canada said in a report released Tuesday. "Seniors make up just 14 per cent of the population aged 12 yet older they account for 23 per cent of all people with visual problems," Statistics Canada said in its report.

The study comes on the heels of findings released last week from a symposium that described vision loss as a crisis and noted that those affected are more likely than others to suffer depression. The problems are exacerbated by an aging population and the fact that fewer ophthalmologists are graduating from medical school.

"Vision loss is becoming a more important public-health issue," said David Maberley, associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia. "The need to take action to prevent and manage vision loss has never been greater."

Statistics Canada reported three million seniors - 82 per cent of the Canadian population aged 65 and older - reported having a vision problem in 2003. And the proportion of senior women with vision problems was higher than for their male counterparts.

People have traditionally accepted that as they get older, eyesight fails; vision loss is an almost inevitable rite of passage.

But people are just now realizing that blindness can be a killer, said Gerrard Grace, chairman of the AMD Alliance International, an organization devoted to increasing awareness of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the Western World.

Canada is seeing a "crisis in vision loss," said Grace.

Last week, the Canadian Institute for the Blind released results of a two-day symposium on the topic held earlier this year. International vision-healthcare professionals pooled information and found that visually impaired seniors are three times as likely to suffer from depression and commit suicide.

Laurie Komon, a social worker in Windsor, Ont., who counsels patients with vision loss, estimates 80 to 90 per cent of the people she sees are seniors.

"People don't realize this is a huge loss," she said.

"This is one of the major adjustments in life. The feeling of loss is so profound, it's much like grieving when someone dies. Some people get angry, some people go through depression."

Komon, 48, may understand better than most the devastating effects of vision loss because she's been losing her eyesight for 10 years. She is legally blind and her 11-year-old son is also experiencing loss of vision.

The symposium's findings - which can be seen on the Internet at - indicate visually impaired seniors are twice as likely to fall, four times as likely to have hip fractures and two times as likely to die from a hip fracture.

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