You can still live a full life with geographic atrophy (GA).
Even though your vision may be different, GA does not lead to total blindness. You can use your remaining vision and make certain adjustments to stay active and independent.
How you might feel at first
If you have been diagnosed with GA, it is normal to experience feelings of sadness or worry.
“My first feelings were of complete devastation,” says Jill Adelman, who lives in Turnersville, NJ, 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 have experienced have been slow. The biggest challenges were coming to terms with vision loss and the changes I had to accept as a result,” 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 that many people can still live fulfilling lives. They just need a little 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 off the light, but rather reduces central vision of fine details,” says Sam Dahr, MD, director of the Retina Division at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.
In addition to blind spots in your central vision, you may also notice a loss of sharpness or a lack of vibrancy in colors. It can be difficult to see in low light. Recognizing faces can be a challenge. You may find it difficult to perform daily activities such as driving, reading, crafts and hobbies.
Although the vision loss is permanent, GA does not affect your peripheral vision and you can still use it to see.
“Driving or reading may be compromised, but you can generally maneuver around your home, go to the mall or restaurants, exercise at the health club, and stay physically and socially active,” says Dahr.
Adjustments 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 environment, identify objects and perform daily tasks using voice commands.
“I’ve made a lot of changes in my home and daily life to help me,” says Adelman. “I have special lighting. I always have devices with me, such as magnifying glasses and flashlights. My electronic devices are displayed in large, high-contrast font.”
If you enjoy reading, try an electronic magnifying glass, large print books, or audiobooks. If you enjoy cooking, small changes like using light- or dark-colored cutting boards for better contrast and applying clear tape to measuring cups can keep you safe and independent in the kitchen.
Reasons to be optimistic
There are many appliances to choose from if you live near GA. And experts say more improvements are likely to happen soon.
Because GA affects millions of people, many organizations are looking for GA solutions. “Government research agencies and private companies are pouring money into research into pharmaceutical therapies,” Dahr says. Medical device companies are coming up with new innovations and technologies to help with augmentation.
“This is one of the most intense areas of medical research,” says Starr, adding that he is optimistic about the future.
Resources to help you live a full life
In the meantime, try these resources to help you manage GA.
Retinal and visually impaired specialists. “Your retina specialist is an important partner,” says Dahr. Make an appointment with your specialist at least once or twice a year. They will check how you are doing and tell you if new treatments are available. Working with a low vision specialist can help you make the most of the vision you have left.
Offices for low vision or visual rehabilitation. Contact your local nonprofit or government agency. They may offer evaluations for low vision, occupational therapy programs, and support groups. You may also be eligible for aids that help with low vision, such as electronic devices, lamps and reading aids.
Support groups. Joining a GA support group can connect you with people who understand what it’s like to live with GA and offer you support and suggestions for coping with the changes in your life.
Your social network. Connecting with family and friends can help you feel less alone. Your support network can also help you with practical matters such as transport, cooking and cleaning, and streamlining your daily activities so you can live more independently.
Excercise. Staying active can help you manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. Ask your doctor to recommend a fitness routine that makes sense for you.