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  • Writer's pictureThe Ideal Team

Helping Your Aging Loved One Maintain Independence with Vision Loss: Tips and Resources

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 visual impairment.

According to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), the majority of visually impaired individuals in the country are over the age of 65. 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. This highlights the importance of addressing vision loss in the aging population and providing appropriate support and resources. 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.

senior man reading an ipad with glasses

The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends that individuals aged 65 and older receive a dilated medical eye exam yearly or as their optometrist advises. During a routine eye exam, an optometrist will assess the health and functionality of both eyes and evaluate eyesight. It is crucial to monitor for any new or worsening eye conditions and ensure that eyeglass and/or contact lens prescriptions are up to date to maintain optimal vision function.

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 increased 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

It is important for caregivers to get to know their care recipients' visual condition and limitations. This will allow them 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, reduce glare, and cover reflective surfaces when possible. Make sure your loved one gets appropriate lighting for every activity they do. Direct task lighting is best for things like reading, playing cards, or crafting. A clip-on or gooseneck lamp will work. Under-counter lighting is another type of lighting that works well in the kitchen and other larger areas.

As task lighting increases, the surrounding room lighting should also be increased. Keeping lights on during the daytime helps to equalize indoor and outdoor lighting.

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, ensure you have wide, clear, and level walking paths.

You might need to move some furniture to make the house easier to navigate. This can be confusing at first, so be sure to help your loved one move around until they're used to it. However, 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 ensure you return things to the same spot every time. Using a basket to store similar objects can help you find keys, remotes, and electronics more easily.

For seniors with limited or no vision and 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 tactile systems to mark or differentiate objects. Using their remaining vision, they can identify and organize things. Individual items or collections can be identified 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 difficulty 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. This is especially important in bathrooms, where it's very 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.

Think Bigger

elderly man reading with a magnifying glass

For people with low vision, magnifying devices range from basic to sophisticated. Look for items with bigger print and buttons, such as books, chequebooks, calendars, calculators, remote control units, clocks, watches, appointment books, and playing cards.

Magnifiers can be very helpful for items that don't come in low-vision versions. 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, 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 based on their knowledge and experience to meet the specific needs of a visually impaired individual. In addition to mobility training, vision rehabilitation can assist in organizing, marking, and labelling household items. These specialists can also 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

A strong support system is essential when someone has a new or worsening visual impairment. Encourage your loved one to keep up their hobbies and pastimes by keeping active with friends. Make sure they feel more confident in participating 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. Ensure 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 do so and helping them implement the tips above to improve their independence.

Call us today for information on how we can help your senior loved one maintain independence while navigating life with low vision.


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