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Professor Jamila Bookwala and Brendan Lawson '11

For Brendan Lawson ’11 (Bernardsville, N.J.), his desire to become an optometrist was solidified during a service trip to Guatemala.

“We provided over 1,600 pairs of prescription eyeglasses and an equal amount of sunglasses to patients who had never had a comprehensive eye exam before,” explains the psychology major. “I gave new glasses to a very nearsighted elderly man whose glasses were very out of date. The man immediately burst into tears when I put the glasses on his face as he had literally not ‘seen’ the world in his 65 years of life and finally could fully experience the world around him. At that moment, I knew that practicing optometry and volunteering on similar trips in the future was what I wanted to pursue as a career.”

On campus, Lawson has been working with Jamila Bookwala, associate professor of psychology, on research that examines the links among loss of vision, physical and social function, and mental health in older adults. The research focuses on the application of the activity-restriction model of depressed affect as related to poor vision in older adults, Lawson says.

“The model suggests there is a link between decreased physical and social functioning in later life due to stressors associated with aging, and that they contribute ultimately to poorer mental health,” explains Lawson. “We wanted to examine specifically how poorer vision, both self-rated vision and objective visual acuity, could fit within this model, and in doing so help create a better understanding of the mental health implications that poorer vision in later life can have on older adults.”

Lawson and Bookwala’s data has proved to be significant. They have found that poor vision later in life contributes to lower mental health by restricting routine functional and social activities.

Because of their work, the pair has been invited to present at the American Psychological Association conference in August, and their findings have been approved for publication in the psychology journal The Gerontologist. Lawson presented related research with Bookwala at the LVAIC Undergraduate Psychology Conference at Moravian College in 2009.

Presenting at the upcoming conference is the capstone of Lawson’s academic career at Lafayette.

“I feel really great to have had this opportunity and I am very excited to be a part of such a big conference this summer,” says Lawson, a member of the varsity swimming team. “I owe a lot to Professor Bookwala in being so passionate about what she does. Having the opportunity to work with her on a research topic that I was personally intrigued by was really a privilege. This is what Lafayette tries to encourage as a school with regard to faculty-student interaction.”

Bookwala has been equally impressed with Lawson as a student.

“This is a huge accomplishment for Brendan,” she says. “He is headed to optometry school in the fall, and I am so pleased that he sought out the opportunity to work with me on this project that examines the role of poor vision in mental health in late life as it is directly related to his interest in visual function.  I have enjoyed working with him immensely.”

After graduation, Lawson will be pursuing a doctor of optometry degree at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University in Elkins Park, Pa.

“Being able to make a measurable impact on patients every day through providing visual care has always been a true dream of mine,” he says.

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