Like growing older, stress is an inevitable part of life. Whether it’s something at work or your favorite team going into a big game, everyone experiences some form of stress. Throw a chronic illness into the mix, and that individual has an extra stress that most people don’t understand. For example, age-related eye health concerns weigh heavy on the minds of Americans over 50, causing anxiety, depression, and stress.
Age-Related Eye Health and Stress
Age-related eye health patients face many added challenges to their lives. Aside from the scare of vision loss looming over their heads, they have the fear of losing their independence and the ability to enjoy daily life. In fact, a study found that age-related eye health patients’ emotional distress and quality of life was “significantly worse” than those with arthritis, chronic pulmonary disease and even melanoma and bone marrow transplant patients.
Study the Connection
Taking this into consideration, Bradley Dougherty, OD, PhD, and San-San Cooley, OD, tested the connection between age-related eye health and stress. Dr. Dougherty believes, “It’s very important to remember to consider the potential psychological consequences of vision loss.” The two questioned if stress may contribute to the worsening of age-related eye health concerns, considering many associate stresses with increased inflammation and these concerns are mainly inflammatory.
The study included 137 participants with age-related eye health issues who fill out the “Perceived Stress Scale” (PSS). Utilized in many different studies for a diverse population of patients and illnesses, the PSS is reputable and reliable in assessing subjective stress levels. The researchers used the scale to see how stress impacts patients’ aging eye health problems and their progression.
“By identifying stress in patients with [age-related eye health problems], a doctor of optometry may be able to refer the patient for valuable treatment, in addition to what might be considered traditional optometric care.”
– Bradley Dougherty, OD, PhD
Using Rasch analysis, the Drs. Dougherty and Cooley determined that 9 of the 10 questions “showed acceptable measurement precision.” The authors concluded that the PSS can be useful in evaluating stress levels in patients struggling with aging eye health issues. The researchers also linked PSS scores to increased pro-inflammatory cytokines, building a stronger correlation between inflammation, stress, and age-related eye health.
What Can You Do?
The researchers believe that the identification and management of perceived stress is an important factor in the complete care of all patient types, not just those who have aging eye health concerns. “A first step that a doctor could take is using a survey such as the PSS to formally evaluate perceived stress levels,” Dr. Cooley explains. Many ODs have become familiar with professionals who can help their age-related eye health patients with depression, so familiarizing yourself with outlets that can help patients deal with stress is a simple next step.
Beyond testing and referrals, you can make the popular suggestion of “mindfulness” exercises. Mindfulness is “the act of being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment — without interpretation or judgment.” The Mayo Clinic suggests:
- Paying attention to the meaning of conversations without judgement or criticism.
- Looking for details in familiar objects (food, wall decor, etc.) you may not have noticed before.
- Focusing on breathing, paying attention to every aspect of movement (inhales, exhales, air movement, body movements, etc.).
- Wake up your senses by deliberately using all 5 senses when eating a raisin or some other food item (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste).
Utilizing these techniques can lead to reduced stress, anxiety and depression, less negative thinking, and improved mood. Experts suggest practicing mindfulness every day for 6 months to allow the exercises to become habit and make an impact. However, protecting patients’ eye health before they develop serious age-related problems is ideal.
Total Patient Care
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Learn more about providing EyePromise nutraceuticals.
- Dougherty, Bradley E., et al. “Measurement of Perceived Stress in Age-Related Macular Degeneration.” Optometry and Vision Science, vol. 94, no. 3, Mar. 2017, pp. 290–296., doi:10.1097/opx.0000000000001055.
- “How to Practice Mindfulness.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 10 Nov. 2015, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/mindfulness-exercises/art-20046356?pg=2.
- Kurek, Ellen. “Determining the Role of Stress in the Progression of AMD.” MD Magazine, Intellisphere, LLC., 10 Mar. 2017, www.mdmag.com/medical-news/determining-the-role-of-stress-in-the-progression-of-amd.
- “Study Stresses Stress Test in Treating Patients with AMD.” American Optometric Association, American Optometric Association, 24 Mar. 2017, www.aoa.org/news/clinical-eye-care/study-stresses-stress-test-in-treating-patients-with-amd?sso=y.
- Wolters Kluwer Health. “Assessing the impact of stress in age-related macular degeneration.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 March 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170303131002.htm>.