Vail Daily column: Elder care strategies for visually impaired seniors
Resources for visual impairment
• Beyond Sight Inc., 303-795-6455
• En-Vision America, 800-890-1180
• Freedom Scientific Blind/Low Vision Group, 800-444-4443
• Independent Living Aids Inc., 800-537-2118
At any age, experiencing the loss of one’s vision can be traumatic. However, for our aging loved ones, this often affects their ability to live independently and complicates their ability to participate in daily activities.
Over the past few months, we have been taking on new clients with very similar medical issues — vision loss. Each of the clients we now assist has either moved into his or her adult child’s home or has adult children living within the state who are available to help. In each circumstance, the elder parents are trying to hold on to their independence.
When a loved one begins to lose their vision, they often rely on the support and assistance of a caregiver or family to help them manage. But if you don’t have experience with vision loss or blindness, it can be difficult to know the best way to provide care for a loved one who is suffering from vision loss.
Recently, a concerned daughter called our office asking for both help and recourse to assist her mother. The daughter explained to our office that while her mother was brushing her hair, she poked her eye with one of the bristles of the brush. As the daughter lives on the Front Range, responding to help her mom was challenging.
However, the daughter did make a call to an eye doctor to see about getting her mom to an eye appointment. She called her mom back and asked that she directly call the doctor to explain what was occurring. Upon that first call, the mother was told that what occurred may have been something as innocuous as a “floater” and she was to make an appointment to see the doctor in a week.
The mother was not at all satisfied with this answer and took it upon herself to have a friend’s son take her to the doctor’s office that day. After sitting in a waiting room for a couple of hours, the doctor found time to get her into an exam room. After a thorough exam, the doctor told her that she had wet macular degeneration. Further, the doctor told her that the office was going to contact a retinal specialist immediately and attempt to get her in for an appointment ASAP.
Helping seniors avoid falls is always a big part of elder care. But when a senior is visually impaired or legally blind, the risk of falls becomes much greater. Family elder care providers for seniors with low vision need to be especially careful to reduce the risk of slipping, tripping and falling around the home.
If your loved one still has partial vision, there are steps you can take to make it easier for him or her to see their surroundings and avoid risky areas. Consider replacing lights around the home with higher-wattage fixtures and bulbs to make the space brighter. You might also want to install new lights in dark areas or spots where your loved one is at a higher risk for fall or injury, such as stairs. You can also make stairs easier to see by applying brightly colored tape along the lip of each step.
You will also want to eliminate tripping and slipping risks. This means getting rid of clutter, keeping cords out of the way, removing rugs that could be tripped over and applying a non-slip coating to tile floors. You should also encourage your loved one to wear rubber-soled shoes with strong grip.
As a caregiver, you can help your loved one cope with visual impairment by accommodating their vision loss in day-to-day life. One of the simplest ways to do this is by helping your loved one learn about possible vision aids. You can also provide them with products that make it easier to cope with vision loss, such as books with oversized print or large-screen TVs with high-contrast images. You can also help them keep their home organized so that it’s easy for them to find items by memory or touch.
Elder care for vision loss
As an eldercare provider for a visually impaired senior, you might also be called on to help with everyday tasks. Your loved one’s visual impairment might prevent them from being able to cook, clean their home, do laundry or any number of other activities. It might also mean that they rely on you for shopping and errands.
If you need resources and advice, call our office, the American Academy of Ophthalmology or the American Foundation for the Blind. There is help available.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526, or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.