These 5 Common Sense Tips Help Seniors with Vision Loss Maintain Independence

Losing sight can be a potentially devastating condition, as Home Instead CAREGiverSM Linda discovered while assisting a blind individual for nearly two years.

Linda said: “He has had bad days, but I cheer him up. He gets around the house OK, but he said he’d give anything if he could see. I think so much of him and his courage. I told him, ‘If I could trade my eyes for yours, I would.’ ”

The number of older Americans with visual impairment or blindness is expected to double by 2020. One in nine Canadians develop irreversible vision loss by the age of 65, according to the Canadian Association of Optometrists.

More than 50% of older adults have vision and/or hearing loss.

“Cataracts and macular degeneration have a profound effect on the quality of life of patients and caregivers, particularly as these diseases progress,” said Dr. Preeti Subramanian, who oversees research programs for these two conditions at Bright Focus Foundation. “Navigating day-to-day life becomes challenging as driving, reading and mobility are affected in these individuals.”

The risks:

Vision loss has a significant impact on the lives of those who experience it as well as on their families, their friends, and society, according to the Canadian Association of Optometrists.

  • Vision loss can affect one’s quality of life, independence, and mobility. It has been linked to falls, injury, and worsening of mental health, cognition, social function, employment, and educational attainment.
  • Medication side effects also can be a factor. Always check with your doctor about the possible side effects of the drugs and, if eye issues are among them, be sure to have eyes checked regularly.

Practical tips:

It only takes a little imagination to keep older adults engaged. Home Instead CAREGiver Glenna took note that her client, who is nearly blind, loved to hear someone read the newspaper to her. “The senior likes ‘Dear Abby,’ so I asked her to answer the ‘Dear Abby’ questions, and we call it, ‘Dear Barbara,’ her first name. I read the question, and she responds,” Glenna said. “It is interesting to hear answers from an 87-year-old senior’s point of view.”

Following are suggestions from Bright Focus’ Dr. Subramanian and Linda Sakowski M.ED, COA, ophthalmic associate at the Weigel Williamson Center for Visual Rehabilitation, University of Nebraska Medical Center:

  • Accentuate light and dark contrasts. For example, avoid placing light foods such as mashed potatoes and chicken on white plates.
  • Improve lighting throughout the house, particularly in bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms, and on stairs. Consider supplemental lighting, such as a lamp, in high-use areas such as on kitchen counter tops.
  • Reduce glare by adding window coverings or window film.
  • Use large print and magnifying glasses to read, cook and take medications.
  • Take advantage of electronic and audio products. And check out these iOS apps and Android apps for individuals with low or no vision.

Hope on the horizon:

  • Researchers at Bright Focus Foundation are studying optic nerve regeneration to restore vision in glaucoma patients, Dr. Subramanian noted. Clinical trials for certain types of macular degeneration will strive to bring breakthroughs in treatment options.
  • Gene replacement or gene editing strategies could potentially reverse vision loss and lead to close to normal visual outcomes.

Who can help:

Find low vision rehabilitation services, such as the Weigel Williamson Center for Visual Rehabilitation, University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Occupational Therapy and Low Vision Rehabilitation Network (OTLVRN). Such facilities work with individuals on a case-by-case basis to help them use their remaining vision more efficiently.

Help at home can be vital to older adults suffering from vision loss. Home Instead CAREGiver Barbara takes a widow to church on Fridays and also spends Saturdays with her. “She is nearly blind – she can’t make out my face, but she knows my voice. I adore her, and it’s not hard to make the adjustments to help her.”

For more research and information on common vision disorders such as Macular Degeneration and Glaucoma, visit BrightFocus.org.

Check out this vision loss simulator to discover what it’s like to bake Grandma’s favourite cookies if you have cataracts.

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