Accepting a Geographic Atrophy Diagnosis

You can still live a full life with geographic atrophy (GA).

Even though your vision may be different, GA doesn’t lead to total blindness. You can use your remaining vision and make certain adjustments to stay active and independent. 

How You May Feel at First

If you’ve been diagnosed with GA, it’s normal to struggle with feelings of sadness or worry.

“My initial feelings were that of complete devastation,” says Jill Adelman, who lives in Turnersville, NJ, has GA, and advocates for people with vision loss through the BrightFocus Foundation. 

For Adelman, learning to accept a GA diagnosis took time. “Fortunately, the changes I’ve experienced have been slow. The biggest struggles were the acceptance of vision loss and the changes it forced me to accept,” she says.

Matt Starr, MD, an ophthalmologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, says it’s common for people with GA to remember a loved one who struggled with vision loss. “I remind them that GA will never lead to complete vision loss and many people are still able to lead fulfilling lives. They just need a little bit more help,” he says.

The Facts About GA

If you have GA, you are considered legally blind, but people often misinterpret what legal blindness actually means. “GA does not turn out the lights, but rather reduces central fine detail vision,” says Sam Dahr, MD, director of the Retina Division with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.

In addition to blind spots in your central vision, you may notice a loss of sharpness or a lack of vibrancy in colors. It may be hard to see in low light. It may be challenging to recognize faces. You might find it hard to do daily activities like driving, reading, crafts, and hobbies.

Although the vision loss is permanent, GA doesn’t affect your peripheral vision, and you can still use it to see.

“Driving or reading may be compromised, but you can typically maneuver around your house, go to the mall or restaurants, exercise in the health club, and stay physically and socially active,” Dahr says.

Adaptations to Improve Your Life

There are tools and technology to help you stay active and independent with GA.

Magnifiers and high-quality lighting help you see better. Computers, tablets, and smartphones can help you navigate your home and surroundings, identify objects, and perform everyday tasks using voice commands.

“I’ve made a lot of changes in my home and daily life to help me,” Adelman says. “I have special lighting. I always carry devices like magnifying glasses and flashlights. My electronic devices are kept on large font with high contrast.”

If you love to read, try an electronic magnifier, large-print books, or audiobooks. If you love to cook, small changes like using light- or dark-colored cutting boards for better contrast and applying bright tape to measuring cups can keep you safe and independent in the kitchen.

Reasons to Be Optimistic

There are many devices to choose from when you live with GA. And experts say more advancements are likely coming soon.

Since GA affects millions of people, many organizations are looking for GA solutions. “Government research agencies and private corporations are pouring resources into research toward pharmaceutical therapies,” Dahr says. Medical device companies are coming up with new innovations and technologies to help with magnification.

“This is one of the most intense areas of medical research,” Starr says, adding that he’s optimistic about the future.

Resources to Help You Live a Full Life

In the meantime, try these resources to help you manage GA.

Retina and low-vision specialists. “Your retina specialist is a key partner,” Dahr says. Schedule an appointment with your specialist at least once or twice a year. They check to see how you’re doing and tell you if new treatments are available. Working with a low-vision specialist can help you make the most out of the vision you still have.

Low vision or visual rehabilitation agencies. Check with your local nonprofit group or state government agency. They may offer low-vision evaluations, occupational therapy programs, and support groups. You may also qualify for aids that help with low vision, such as electronic devices, lamps, and reading aids.

Support groups. Joining a support group for GA can connect you with people who understand what it’s like to live with GA and offer support and suggestions for managing the changes in your life.

Your social network. Connecting with family and friends may help you feel less alone. Your support network can also help with practical things like getting around, cooking and cleaning, and streamlining your daily activities so you can live more independently.

Exercise. Staying active may help you manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. Ask your doctor to recommend a fitness routine that makes sense for you.

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