The change happens gradually. Mom starts to squint at the television during her favorite nighttime show. You see her hold her book closer to her eyes when she reads. Maybe you even catch her moving hesitantly through the room. And then the reality sets in: your mom might be experiencing vision problems.
She is not alone. Many people deal with senior vision loss as they age. Although coping with compromised vision is an adjustment, there are plenty of methods to help Mom get back to having a normal, fulfilling life.
We've compiled information on vision loss in order to help you and your relative through this journey. The first step you can take is to educate yourself and your relative. Be sure to get your loved one to a doctor as soon as possible to determine the cause of the vision problems. Only then can you take the next steps to getting them back to their daily routine!
What causes vision loss?
There is an important distinction that needs to be made between changes in vision and vision loss. As we grow older, we go through vision changes that can be corrected (perhaps with glasses). These changes do not lead to vision loss. On the other hand, senior vision loss is not typical of aging.
However, it is common, and it often stems from four conditions: glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts. Sometimes, an older adult may have a combination of these conditions, which causes their eyesight to be affected in multiple ways. Here's a look at what each condition entails:
Glaucoma – This condition is actually a combination of diseases. Glaucoma damages the optic nerve due to built up fluid pressure in the eye. Open-angle glaucoma, the most common form, has no symptoms, which makes it even harder to catch. Glaucoma starts with peripheral vision loss and can lead to total blindness if not treated. Currently, there is no cure for the disease, but treatment can preserve remaining vision.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration - Also known as AMD, this is the most common cause of vision loss in adults age 50 and older. AMD results in damage to the macula, which is needed for central vision. Blurred vision near the center of the eye is a common symptom and can eventually lead to total loss of central vision.
Diabetic Retinopathy - This condition is the most common diabetic eye disease and is caused by damaged to the blood vessels in the retina. Diabetic retinopathy starts with spotty vision and can lead to complete vision loss if left untreated.
Cataracts - This condition is a clouding of the lens in the eye, leading to cloudy vision. Cataracts are common in older adults and can be treated with cataract surgery if the condition is severe enough to warrant it.
What can you do?
Vision loss is scary for anyone. We often take our vision for granted, underestimating the drastic changes we'd go through if our sight began to fail. However, seniors with vision loss can continue to live a fulfilling and active life, and you can help make that happen by providing emotional and physical support.
So, what exactly can you do?
For starters, encourage mom or dad to be self-reliant. It's easy to worry or step in and help with every small feat, but this doesn't show your loved one that they can continue to live independently. Avoid being over protective by asking before you help — for example, if you see Dad is having a hard time finding something in the kitchen, ask him before you grab it for him. This lets dad know that you are confident in his abilities, but you are there to help if he needs it.
Another way to help a relative cope with vision loss is to build their confidence. Vision rehab is a great way to reinforce independent living skills. These classes can help your relative learn how to cook, clean, and ultimately live with compromised vision. They can relearn skills in a safe environment and regain confidence in their ability to live fully and freely at home. Recognize when your loved one makes progress to help reinforce their confidence. And if you want to show your support even more, why not attend a class with them? This can also help you realize that mom really can continue to be independent — meaning you don't need to worry so much!
Aside from emotional support, you can also help your relative stay safe and comfortable by doing the following:
Install task lights in cupboards and other dark areas
Encourage mom to read in a well-lit room, and be sure the lights are bright enough in the space
Put grab bars in the bathroom
Help arrange furniture in a way that is easy to navigate, remember, and use
Place bright strips at the end of steps to keep dad safe on the stairs
Use contrasting colors between walls and furniture help make sofas and chairs stand out
Introduce your relative to a magnifier to help with reading, or find audio recordings of their favorite books and magazines
Encourage the use of audio appliances, such as cooking tools that speak
Help your relative find another means of transportation, whether that's you, a friend, or a community program.
Senior Vision Loss Resources
You don't have to tackle issues with senior vision loss alone. There are several organizations, both local and national, that provide support and assistance to those coping with vision loss. Any one of the following websites will give you access to trusted senior vision loss information.
- Healthy Vision Resources from the CDC
- The National Eye Institute
- The American Foundation for the Blind
- The American Optometric Association
Vision loss is understandably challenging. It presents changes in every aspect of our daily lives. However, its hurdles can be overcome, and your relative can continue to live independently. If you have further questions regarding senior vision loss, please don't hesitate to contact a care counselor at the Hebrew Home.