Tips and tools for coping with vision loss
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you recommend some good resources for seniors with vision loss? My husband was recently diagnosed with macular degeneration, which has deteriorated his central vision, and he’s become very discouraged.
I’m very sorry to hear about your husband’s eye condition. Unfortunately, there are about 20 million Americans living with macular degeneration today. Over time, this progressive disease can rob people of their central vision, making everyday tasks like driving a car, reading a magazine, or watching television extremely challenging. Here are some tips and resources that can help.
If your husband hasn’t already done so, he needs to see a low-vision specialist for a comprehensive examination. Low-vision specialists are ophthalmologists or optometrists with additional credentials or specialization in low-vision testing, diagnosis, and treatment.
A low vision exam, which is much different from a typical eye exam, will explore how your husband’s eye condition is affecting his day-to-day life, how he’s adapting emotionally, and prescribe solutions to help him regain as much day-to-day functioning as possible.
Your next step is to get your husband to a nearby vision rehabilitation service. These services, which are run by state or nonprofit organizations or private eye care clinics, help people with all types of uncorrectable vision impairments. Most state and nonprofit services are free or low-cost, while private clinics typically charge a fee or may accept Medicare.
While vision rehabilitation does not restore lost sight, it does help people maximize their existing sight, or, if they have no vision, it can equip them with techniques and tools to help them maintain an independent lifestyle.
Services include counseling, along with training on how to perform daily living tasks with low vision, and how to use visual and adaptive devices and assistive technologies that can help improve quality of life.
They also offer guidance for adapting your home that will make it safer and easier for your husband to maneuver and can help him locate low-vision support groups. Some agencies will even send their specialist out to work with him in the comfort of your own home.
To find a vision rehabilitation service near you, ask your husband’s eye doctor for a referral, or you can locate services yourself by calling the American Printing House (APH) Connect Center at 800-232-5463.
Another convenient place to get help for your husband is online at VisionAware (VisionAware.org). This free website, that’s part of the APH Connect Center, is specifically designed for older adults new to vision loss.
It provides information on eye diseases and disorders, along with dozens of practical tips, information, and instructional videos on living with vision loss. These include concepts for adapting your home to make it easier to navigate, techniques for traveling safely outside the home, and various tips on how to manage things like finances, medications, and other tasks such as cooking, cleaning, grooming, reading, writing, doing hobbies, and more.
VisionAware also provides a comprehensive list of more than 2,000 low-vision agencies and organizations across the country that’s searchable by state or category.
Another terrific low-vision resource that’s available to your husband is Hadley (Hadley.edu), which is a nonprofit organization and partner of the National Eye Institute and the National Eye Health Education Program.
Hadley offers online discussion groups, audio podcasts, and dozens of free online workshop videos to help empower the blind and visually impaired. With Hadley, your husband will learn new ways to do things that have become more difficult due to his vision loss and connect him with a network of peers who understand what he’s going through.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.