"Feeling My Way Into Blindness," an essay published in The New York Times in November by Edward Hoagland, an 84-year-old nature and travel writer and novelist, expressed common fears about the effects of vision loss on quality of life.
Mr. Hoagland, who became blind about four years ago, projected deep-seated sadness in describing the challenges he faces of pouring coffee, not missing the toilet, locating a phone number, finding the food on his plate, and knowing to whom he is speaking, not to mention shopping and traveling, when he often must depend on the kindness of strangers. And, of course, he sorely misses nature's inspiring vistas and inhabitants that fueled his writing, though he can still hear birds chatter in the trees, leaves rustle in the wind and waves crash on the shore.
Mr. Hoagland is hardly alone in his distress. According to Action for Blind People, a British support organization, those who have lost some or all sight "struggle with a range of emotions — from shock, anger, sadness and frustration to depression and grief."
When eyesight fails, some people become socially disengaged, leading to isolation and loneliness. Anxiety about a host of issues — falls, medication errors, loss of employment, social blunders — is common.
A recent study from researchers at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that most Americans regard loss of eyesight as the worst ailment that could happen to them, surpassing such conditions as loss of limb, memory, hearing or speech, or having H.I.V./AIDS. Indeed, low vision ranks behind arthritis and heart disease as the third most common chronic cause of impaired functioning in people over 70, Dr. Eric A. Rosenberg of Weill Cornell Medical College and Laura C. Sperazza, a New York optometrist, wrote in American Family Physician.
Some 23.7 million American adults reported in 2015 that they are unable to see at all or have trouble seeing even with corrective lenses. This number is projected to perhaps double by 2050 based on the aging of the population and increasing prevalence of diseases that can cause vision loss. Yet, the Wilmer Eye Institute's national study of 2,044 adults found that many Americans are unaware of the diseases and factors that can put their vision at risk and steps they might take to lower their risk.