It is a common opinion that losing your eyesight is one of the worst losses one can experience. Although most of us will not suffer from total blindness, millions currently live with some sort of visual impairment.
In the United States, older adults make up the majority of visually impaired people, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI). As other senses such as hearing, smell and taste also tend to deteriorate with age, vision loss can be particularly difficult for seniors to accept and adapt to. The following tips will help you help your aging loved one maintain their independence despite vision loss by properly taking care of their eyes and using all resources at their disposal.
Keeping an Eye on Visual Health
Understanding the cause and degree of vision loss is the first step to living a safe and active life.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends individuals age 65 and older get a dilated medical eye exam every year or two, or as recommended by their ophthalmologist. An ophthalmologist will evaluate the eyesight of a patient and assess the health and function of both eyes during a routine eye exam. For optimal vision function, it is vital to monitor for new or worsening eye conditions, as well as to maintain a current prescription for eyeglasses and/or contacts.
Seniors and their families may not be aware of how compromised their eyesight has become because vision loss typically occurs over time. Caregivers can assist by monitoring the following symptoms:
When trying to focus, they squint or tilt their heads.
Knocking over objects or bumping into them.
Taking a break from everyday vision-based activities such as reading or writing.
Missing objects when reaching for them.
Walking hesitantly or falling.
Visual changes may also be reflected in an increase in accidents and risky maneuvers if a loved one is still driving. To ensure early detection and treatment of any eye diseases and prevent lasting damage, you should discuss these noticeable changes with your loved one and schedule an appointment for an eye examination.
Helping a Senior Accept Visual Changes
A senior's functional abilities and quality of life can be significantly affected by eye diseases such as macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. Impaired vision may even lead to depression, withdrawal, and inactivity for some seniors.
Tips and Products for Helping a Senior with Low Vision
Getting to know their care recipients' visual condition and their limitations is important for caregivers. In this way, you'll be able to suggest appropriate changes to their environment and behaviour as well as products that will help them function better.
Individual conditions affect eyesight differently, but these tips can help blind or visually impaired seniors maintain their independence safely.
It's all about the lighting
Keep the surroundings well-lit but be conscious of glare. Use specialized lamps/bulbs to increase contrast and reduce glare and cover reflective surfaces when possible. Make sure your loved one gets appropriate lighting for every activity they do. For things like reading, playing cards, or crafting, direct task lighting is best. A clip-on or gooseneck lamp will work. Another type of lighting that works well in the kitchen and other larger areas is under-counter lighting.
As task lighting is increased, the surrounding room lighting should be increased as well. Keeping lights on during the daytime hours helps to equalize lighting from indoors and outdoors.
Minimize fall risks
Make the bathroom, bedrooms, and hallways safer by using nightlights. Put away clutter and electrical cords. Replace or relocate short or hard-to-see furniture, like a glass coffee table or side table. To navigate the home safely and easily, make sure you have wide, clear, and level walking paths.
To make the house easier to navigate, you might need to move some furniture. This can be confusing at first, so be sure to help your loved one get around until they're used to it. It may not be a good idea for some seniors, especially if they have memory problems, to do large-scale rearrangements.
Make your house more organized
So that your loved one always knows where things are, designate spots for commonly used stuff and make sure you return things to the same spot every time. Using a basket to store similar objects can help you find keys, remotes, and electronics easier.
For seniors with limited or no vision, as well as those whose visual abilities change from day to day, tactile systems can help them navigate their environment more easily. Rubberbands, felt, raised plastic dots or sandpaper cutouts can be used as tactile systems to mark objects or differentiate them from each other. Using their remaining vision, they can identify and organize things. Identifying individual items or collections can be done with large labels, coloured stickers or tapes.
Don't be afraid to contrast colours
Those with a little vision can find daily activities much easier with a combination of light and dark colours. Those with visual impairments have a hard time identifying doorways, stairs, furniture, and especially smaller items that blend in.
For example, providing a white cutting board for preparing darker foods like apples and a dark board for lighter foods like onions can help extend independence and promote safety. It's especially important in bathrooms, where it's a lot monotonous. Pick towels, washcloths, and bath mats that contrast sharply with the tub/shower, counter, and floor. You can also improve home safety by painting door jambs and highlighting the edges of steps with brightly coloured tape.
For people with low vision, magnifying devices range from very basic to very sophisticated. Look for items with bigger print and buttons like books, chequebooks, calendars, calculators, remote control units, clocks, watches, appointment books, and playing cards.
For items that don't come in low-vision versions, magnifiers can be very helpful. Electronic magnification units use a camera to capture an image and project it onto a built-in monitor, TV screen, or computer screen. You can use them to read books, write checks, read bills and look at pictures, and do intricate tasks like filling an insulin syringe.
Consult a low-vision specialist
A low vision specialist can develop a customized solution that meets the specific needs of a visually impaired individual based on their knowledge and experience. In addition to mobility training, vision rehabilitation can assist in organizing, marking, and labelling household items. Moreover, these specialists can provide their clients with information about how to obtain low-vision aids and teach them how to use them effectively. The mental health services provided by vision rehabilitation programs can even help participants cope with the anxiety and depression that accompany vision loss.
Providing moral support
When someone has a new or worsening visual impairment, a strong support system is essential. Encourage your loved one to keep up their hobbies and pastimes by keeping active with his or her friends. Make sure they feel more confident in being able to participate by offering to accompany or assist them in these things.
As well as encouraging open and honest communication, some people with low vision experience hallucinations called Charles Bonnet syndrome. This can be confused with dementia, but it is different. Even though it is harmless, hallucinations like this can be very unsettling. Make sure your loved one knows they can talk to you about new symptoms and if anything seems wrong.
In most cases, seniors worry they will be unable to live independently if they have sight impairments. Encourage your loved one to remain independent by suggesting resources that will enable them to remain independent, and help them implement the tips above to improve their independence.
For information on how we can help your senior loved one maintain their independence while navigating their life with low vision, call us today!
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