AMD, Bananagrams, Play, and Quality of Life

Age-related macular degeneration is a progressive disease that affects the tiny, central part of the retina called the macula and causes loss of central vision.

According to the National Eye Institute, AMD affects more than 2.1 million individuals in the United States alone, and that number is expected to grow to 5.4 million by 2050, owing to the rapid aging of the US population.

With vision loss can come other quality of life deficits such as isolation, loss of independence, depression, stress, and possibly cognitive decline. While researchers generally stop short of claiming that AMD-related vision loss directly causes these conditions, they have found that visual impairment can play a role in reducing not only independence, but mobility and participation in activities that may improve or maintain physical, mental, and social well-being.

The relationship between AMD and cognitive decline may be due to a shared genetic pathway in neurodegenerative disorders, and there is some evidence that “[…the relationship between visual and cognitive impairment is based on the influence of visual impairment on the level and quality of interactive experiences of older adults, thus reducing their capacity to develop and maintain relationships and to participate in activities that may improve their physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being. It has been postulated that vision impairment affects cognitive performance by reducing the level of participation in these types of stimulating activities and thus leads to a decrease in brain reserve. The lack of activity may exacerbate cognitive impairment indirectly if it predisposes a person to depression and isolation.”

The GOOD news is that with more awareness of AMD and vision loss, new technologies and products are emerging that are specifically designed to increase or maintain quality of life for those living with vision loss. There are multiple visual assistive technologies and products that help people maintain independence.

Not as many are available that target mental and social stimulation, which is why AMDF was happy to learn that Bananagrams had been inspired by a fan to produce a big letter version of their classic game so that people with AMD or with low vision from other causes can participate in a social game that’s both fun and cognitively stimulating.

We hope this inspires other companies to consider creating accessible versions of their games and products.

References and further research:
(This list is a work in progress. Check back soon for more!)

** direct quote from

Activity loss is associated with cognitive decline in age-related macular degeneration

“In Alzheimer’s Disease, we know that cognitive activities such as reading or playing board games or musical instruments have the potential to reduce the risk of dementia, as do physical and social activities. […] Although other mechanisms are possible, our finding that activity loss is associated with cognitive decline in AMD suggests the importance of maintaining activities in the face of vision loss.” Click here for more.

Cognitive Impairment in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study

“In patients with AMD, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group (2006) found that increased macular abnormalities and reduced vision were associated with lower cognitive function, and that persons with vision acuity worse than 20/40 in both eyes were more likely to be cognitively impaired than persons with better visual acuity.” Click here for more.