Aging can get a little tricky when vision loss enters the picture. Sadly, it often does – presbyopia and similar age-related disorders affect a large majority of aging Americans. And, as the baby boomer generation hits its silver years, the number of affected individuals will only grow. But that’s the bad news, let’s talk about the good.
While vision loss is a growing problem, it’s one that we’re doing a better job of fighting all the time. You’ll find more and more ophthalmologists specializing in aging eyes, better treatments available, and greater understanding of the issue.
But medical therapy often constitutes only one half of the battle for someone dealing with impaired vision. The support of loved ones is important for any aging individual, and doubly important for someone coping with impaired vision. Here, we’ll talk about a few ways you can help friends and family handle worsening vision.
Start with Yourself
Making the commitment to help care for someone with impaired vision is no small thing. Vision loss is a terrifying experience, but it’s important to realize that it impacts far more than just one person. Caretakers are put under an enormous amount of pressure, sometimes just as much as the person they’re caring for. In some cases, you may even want to start searching for additional help.
If it’s clear that an aging friend or relative needs more care than you can realistically give, then it’s time to begin vetting retirement homes or searching for a part-time caretaker to ensure that you and the person you’re aiding get the help you need. It’s also highly recommended that you search for support and further information where you can. Communities such as VisionAware are full of people with similar experiences who can help make the transition easier.
It’s also important to prepare yourself for the stresses of acting as caretaker. Vision loss, especially sudden vision loss, can often lead to depression, anger, and frustration. Spouses helping their vision-impaired partners often report similar feelings. Communication can go a long way towards remedying these problems – though you shouldn’t hesitate to seek outside help or therapy as well.
Remember that you’re not solving a problem or shouldering a load. You’re assisting another person. Instead of overprotecting, it’s better to search for areas where help really is essential, while supporting self-reliance elsewhere.
Search for Help
The first step on the road to vision rehabilitation is finding the right resources. While many people coping with vision loss are proactive and able to take this step on their own, many others may feel lost or hopeless, and can use a hand getting started. The first, and perhaps the most important task, is finding an appropriate medical solution. To do so, get informed as to what you need exactly. Ask for a referral from a family doctor, or local hospitals if they have an ophthalmology department.
One of the most challenging aspects of vision treatment is cost. Check your insurance for listings of approved physicians, and also familiarize yourself with post-insurance price tags. Fortunately, there are financial resources for blind and vision-impaired people. Social security disability insurance and similar programs can be an extremely helpful boost.
Support groups are also another excellent place to start. People with newly impaired vision can often feel suddenly isolated by their disability. Meeting other people facing the same difficulties can go a long way toward remedying those problems. Not only that, but support groups are a portal to new resources, as you’ll come into contact with people who have successfully utilized assistance programs or courses and can help you do the same.
Vision rehabilitation is a long and involved process, but you don’t have to go it alone. There’s an enormous amount of help out there for the vision-impaired, and it’s best to have a thorough understanding of what’s available.
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While the two previous sections are definitely more important in the long run, we’d also like to take some time to list a few immediate steps you can take to help quickly improve quality of life for the person you’re caring for.
Several easy home modifications can make a world of difference for someone with impaired vision. Start by keeping a clean house. Toys, bundles of clothes, and other obstacles that we normally rely on vision to avoid can cause a fall if left on the ground. It’s also important to ensure that your house has adequate lighting. Additional lights, more powerful bulbs, or strategically placed task lighting can all help a person with poor vision move around safely, and read or work more comfortably.
Color cues are also handy. While you might normally purchase items that blend in with household décor, choosing ones that instead contrast with background colors will help a vision-impaired family member spot them. Work out a system together, and always keep your loved one abreast of any changes. Moving a chair across a room can disorient someone relying on it as a spacial marker.
Find the right technology. There are plenty of vision aids available, ranging from telescopic spectacles to full-spectrum light bulbs. All have their uses, and can make a major difference in someone’s life. Smart phones and tablets have recently become popular as portable support devices. Purpose-built apps only make them more useful.
Devices and vision aids aside, your time is often the most valuable assistance you can give. People coping with vision loss often feel cut off from friends and family. Do your best to bridge that gap; it’s not always easy to ask for assistance, so just letting someone know that you’re available and happy to aid them can be a huge help. Offering to drive or just to accompany someone on a shopping trip can make life much, much easier.