Previous studies and community information about everyday difficulties in age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have focussed on domains such as reading and driving. Here, we provide the first in-depth examination of how impaired face perception impacts social interactions and quality of life in AMD. We also develop a Faces and Social Life in AMD brochure and information sheet, plus accompanying conversation starter, aimed at AMD patients and those who interact with them (family, friends, nursing home staff).
Semi-structured face-to-face interviews were conducted with 21 AMD patients covering the full range from mild vision loss to legally blind. Thematic analysis was used to explore the range of patient experiences.
Patients reported faces appeared blurred and/or distorted. They described recurrent failures to recognise others' identity, facial expressions and emotional states, plus failures of alternative non-face strategies (e.g., hairstyle, voice). They reported failures to follow social nuances (e.g., to pick up that someone was joking), and feelings of missing out ('I can't join in'). Concern about offending others (e.g., by unintentionally ignoring them) was common, as were concerns of appearing fraudulent ('Other people don't understand'). Many reported social disengagement. Many reported specifically face-perception-related reductions in social life, confidence, and quality of life. All effects were observed even with only mild vision loss. Patients endorsed the value of our Faces and Social Life in AMD Information Sheet, developed from the interview results, and supported future technological assistance (digital image enhancement).
Poor face perception in AMD is an important domain contributing to impaired social interactions and quality of life. This domain should be directly assessed in quantitative quality of life measures, and in resources designed to improve community understanding. The identity-related social difficulties mirror those in prosopagnosia, of cortical rather than retinal origin, implying findings may generalise to all low-vision disorders