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Tips on How to Cope With Vision Loss

Nearly everybody experiences some degree of vision loss as they age.

While many seniors prefer to ignore or overlook this problem, learning how to effectively cope with vision loss can prove invaluable to a senior’s ability to maintain their independence and quality of life.

In the United States, vision loss affects more than 55 million people aged 55 and over. For this reason, there are a variety of methods available for those dealing with vision loss, which are outlined and detailed below.

doctor

How to Understand & Approach Vision Loss

Get Examined, Get Educated

The first step is to receive a thorough eye examination in order to understand what exactly is causing your visual issue. If it turns out that your vision cannot be corrected with contact lenses, regular glasses, medicine, or surgery, then most eye doctors will categorize you as having “low vision.”

Low vision is generally understood as referring to uncorrectable vision that interferes with daily activities. Essentially, low vision has taken the place of terms like “partial sight” and “partial blindness,” which are no longer in common use.

But what are the major causes of low vision in seniors?

Eye Diseases

Unfortunately, many seniors face the prospect of permanent vision loss as they grow older, and age-related diseases are among the main culprits.

The National Eye Institute has noted that, overall, there are four key eye conditions that account for age-related eye diseases among the elderly:

  1. Glaucoma: Glaucoma comprises a group of disorders characterized by optic nerve damage and visual field loss. Certain people are at a higher risk of developing this very troubling disease, including those who have a family history of glaucoma, African Americans, and, of course, older adults.
  1. Age-Related Macular Degeneration: This disease causes changes in central vision by affecting the macula, or the center of the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye. Although small, the macula is the part of the retina that enables us to see colors and fine details. Strong central vision provided by the macula is essential to a variety of different activities, such as driving, reading, and recognizing faces.
  2. Diabetic retinopathy: This is an eye condition that affects people with diabetes who tend to have high blood glucose over an extended period of time. An excess of blood sugar can destroy the blood vessels that are located toward the rear area of the eye, thereby preventing the retina from receiving the amount of nutrients it needs to maintain vision. Among the population of diabetics who are aged 40 years or older, the NEI estimates that an incredible 40% have some degree of diabetic retinopathy, and that one of every 12 people with diabetes in this age group has advanced, vision-threatening retinopathy.
  1. Cataracts: Cataracts are cloudy or opaque areas in the normally clear lens inside the eye; whether or not they interfere with normal vision will depend on their size and location. In addition to these symptoms, cataracts can also result in a general dulling of colors, a heightened sensitivity to glare, and a decrease in contrast sensitivity. Usually cataracts develop in both eyes, but one may be worse than the other.

 

These conditions progress so gradually that they’re often entirely unnoticed until vision loss has become severe. For this reason, early detection is absolutely crucial for seniors, who should know what early warning signs to look out for.

Optical Care Tips For Those With Low Vision

The Importance of Eye Exams

In addition to knowing the most common warning signs of vision loss, seniors should also be proactive about scheduling regular eye exams – if not once a year, then at least once every two years. These exams allow seniors to stay on top of the changes occurring in their vision, which in turn lets them adjust their eye care approach accordingly.

Seniors experiencing vision loss should receive a low vision examination from a qualified ophthalmologist or optometrist. This exam will indicate what type of visual rehabilitation approach will be most beneficial for the individual’s eyesight. A vision specialist can also perform a functional eye exam to gage how the person’s visual impairment is affecting their day-to-day living. Difficulty reading, driving, and crossing the street are among the most common functional eye issues that seniors experience on a regular basis.

A Word of Warning: When you visit the eye doctor, be aware that the results of your vision tests may not always be a completely accurate measure of your actual visual strength and clarity. Research has shown that people who see perfectly well at their doctor’s office typically see a lot less effectively back at their own homes, usually because of poor home lighting. This is something to keep in mind during your doctor visits, so that you’re not fooled into believing that your vision is better than it actually is.

Low Vision Optical Devices

There are a number of low vision optical devices that are used to bolster the functional eyesight of those with visual impairments. These can be grouped into two basic categories:

  • Near: Near optical devices are for activities such as reading, writing, sewing and crafting. Magnifiers that enlarge the appearance of words are among the most commonly used near optical devices, and they come in hand-held or standing forms, or as lenses for glasses.
  • Distant: Distant optical devices are meant for things like movie theater outings, reading street signs and price tags, and identifying numbers in various public places, such as on buses and trains. The telescope is the most well-known optical device for enhancing distance vision: star-gazers prefer them hoisted atop a tripod, while sports fans up in the nose-bleed sections of the stadium rely on the hand-held varieties to let them follow the action down on the field.

Since low vision optical devices are task-specific, your doctor may prescribe different devices for different tasks. You might use a particular device for reading books, another for watching TV, and so on.

Non-Optical Tips for Coping With Vision Loss

Non-Optical Devices

Low vision non-optical devices are typically recommended as part of a low vision examination. They can be utilized along with magnifiers and other low vision optical devices that aim to help with reading. Some of these devices include:

  • supplemental lighting
  • absorptive sun lenses
  • colored acetate filters
  • flexible arm task lamps
  • full spectrum light bulbs
  • text-reading software
  • electronic video magnifiers

6 Critical Home Safety Tips For Those Dealing With Vision Loss

There are a number of practical solutions for the home that can help support a loved one who is dealing with visual impairment:

  1. Improving the lighting in the home is vital to reducing the chances of a hazardous fall taking place. There shouldn’t be any dark areas, especially not in the bathrooms or near any staircases.
  2. Remove furniture and carpeting with striped, checkered, or plaid patters, as these can be confusing visually.
  3. Avoid using small throw rugs that a person might slip on.
  4. Installing grab bars at certain troublesome areas in the home can be a great deterrent against falls and other accidents.
  5. Keep all pathways clear of clutter. Make sure clothing, books, and other items are not left on the ground where someone might trip on them.
  6. Only work or read in a well-lit room – one that doesn’t have any glare.

Emotional Support to Help Seniors With Low Vision

Many seniors feel overwhelmed by their visual impairments. This is especially true for those dealing with severe to permanent vision loss, for whom the decline of their eyesight can easily trigger a wide range of emotions, such as depression, guilt and anger. This process is also difficult on the seniors’ loved ones, who must often take on more care-giving responsibilities to compensate for their loved one’s visual impediments.

For all these reasons and more, communication becomes critical during these difficult periods, both for the senior and those who care for and interact with them. The senior should have an outlet where they feel comfortable expressing their needs, wants, fears, and insecurities, and those who help care for the senior should make an extra effort to provide emotional support.

There are many counseling options available for seniors who are struggling with vision loss – these are commonly offered by doctors, state agencies, and non-profit organizations. Patients can also reach out to their personal eye doctors, who should be able to provide them with referrals to professionals that can offer guidance and support.   

A Proactive Approach to Vision Care

If you know an elderly loved one who you think is in need of more comprehensive vision care, or who requires new or specialized treatment for their eye conditions, be proactive in helping them get the assistance they need.

A senior’s vision is absolutely vital to their safety and their quality of life, so ensure your loved one is receiving the vision care that’s best suited to their individual needs.