15 Tips For Family and Friends of Low Vision Patients

  1. Be direct about vision
    Ask questions so that you know. Don’t worry about using phrases like “Did you see Zelda yesterday?”
  2. Identify yourself, and say “hello”
    Don’t assume that others can see you.
  3. Give clear directions
    Say in words everything you want to convey.
  4. Use black felt-tip or ink pens, and print in clear lettering
    Always write notes so that they can be read, and consider calling instead.
  5. Give low-vision gifts
    Some suggestions: talking calculators, watches, clocks, thermometers, weight scales, or computer software. Large-button or automatic-dialing telephones, large print cards, clocks, calendars, or address books. Books on tape or tickets to a concert. Help purchase a CCTV.
  6. Keep the environment predictable
    Keep frequently-used items like house keys, salt shakers, and trash bags in designated places. Put things away after you use them, and close cupboard and stairwell doors. Return any item you move to the place you found it.
  7. Offer your arm, don’t take theirs
    Don’t take their arm, because you may throw them off-balance. Offer help where it’s necessary, but don’t just do it yourself.
  8. Don’t just do for your parent
    Don’t assume that because of low vision your parent isn’t capable, and don’t take away anyone’s reason for having to be up and about in the morning.
  9. Share activities you both enjoy
    Some suggestions:
    Dine out.
    Attend a wine tasting or food fair.
    Go to the symphony or an opera concert.
    Go to a botanical garden.
    Go to a lecture series, a book reading, or poetry reading.
    Start or join a salon, discussion group, or support group.
  10. Encourage interests
    Encourage hobbies, volunteer work, membership in senior clubs or support groups, and listening to National Public Radio news or to Newsweek on cassette tape. Just coping with low vision as a full-time preoccupation is a short-term recipe for boredom, and a long-term recipe for personal distress and crisis.
  11. Realize the importance of friends
    Without any friends, seniors are prone to loneliness, which may lead to clinical depression. Adult children would do their parents a great service by helping them make or keep friends.
  12. Watch for depression
    Depression is very common among people with MD. Be aware of changes in your friend or family member’s emotional state, sleeping patterns, weight, or behavior. Signals for depression are excessive worry, bouts of crying, listlessness or disinterest, low motivation, pessimism or snippiness, social withdrawal, a refusal to communicate or an excessively stiff upper lip, moping, or helplessness. If you see signs of depression, make a doctor’s appointment, pursue visual rehabilitation, and encourage involvement in new activities.
  13. Participate in visual rehabilitation
    There are many practical things you can do to help someone follow a program of visual rehabilitation. Here are just a few suggestions:Help rearrange furniture, tape down area rugs, install new lighting fixtures, choose contrasting tablecloths or dishes.Help rearrange clothing on shelves for better visibility.

    Help label files, boxes, bottle, stove dials, washing machine dials, and canned goods.

    Talk directly to your friend or family member about his or her experiences and feelings about low vision.

  14. Help start a support group
    At a low vision support group, your friend or family member would have the chance to talk to people who have walked a mile in their shoes and can understand their experiences. They can also be very helpful for spouses of people with low vision.
  15. Keep your sense of humor
    We are all prone to taking life too seriously. Let your friend or family member see the daily humor in this busy, unpredictable, ridiculous, profound, heartbreaking, and heartwarming experience we call living.

More information here.

Aging and Vision Loss Facts

Today, 6.5 million Americans over age 65 have a severe visual impairment, according to the Longitudinal Prevalence of Major Eye Diseases 2003 study. Experts predict that by 2030, rates of severe vision loss will double along with the country’s aging population (Prevent Blindness America’s Vision Problems in the U.S., 2002).

The first wave of the 78 million baby boom generation turns 65 in 2011, jumpstarting a two-decade period of growth in America’s 65 and older population (Administration on Aging). By 2030, the number of people over the age of 65 will double to 71.5 million, or 20 percent of the population.

The risk of low vision and blindness increases significantly with age, particularly in those over age 65 (2004 National Eye Institute study).

Additional facts here.

Blindness and Low Vision Resources From the Veteran’s Administration

Blindness is considered one of the most devastating disabilities that can affect an individual, striking people of all ages and walks of life. The term legal blindness is, however, a deceiving one. The generally accepted definition of legal blindness is either central visual acuity of 20/200 or worse in the better eye with the use of corrective glasses; or, central visual acuity better than 20/200 in the better eye with visual field deficits in which the widest diameter of peripheral fields is 20 degrees or less. The definition of low vision used to generate estimates of veterans with low vision is central visual acuity equal to or less than 20/70 but greater than 20/200 in the better seeing eye with the use of corrective glasses. Continue reading “Blindness and Low Vision Resources From the Veteran’s Administration”

Communication Tips for Families and Caregivers of Low-Vision Patients

When vision loss happens to a relative, all family members will have to relearn how to communicate with one another. Few people who have not been in this situation realize how much our eyes have to do with how we communicate, but there are steps you can take to compensate.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Holding back only adds tension. Say what’s on your mind as sensitively as you can.

Don’t be afraid to have the hard conversations. Talking about difficult issues means treading delicate emotional ground, but avoiding them is far worse. Take the time to think about what you want to say and how before starting the conversation.

Break the ice … but stay on topic. Don’t overwhelm your loved one with too many issues at once.

Confront tough topics directly but be sensitive, too. Especially now, how you say something is just as important as what you are saying. Always strike a supportive tone.

Give your relative your complete attention when in conversation.

Postpone difficult discussions when tensions are running high or when you may be otherwise distracted.

Ask your relative for help when you need it.

Making Casual Conversation

While most people with vision loss have some vision, you shouldn’t assume that they can make out where you are and or even who you are when both of you are in the same room. Here are some guidelines for making conversation easier.

Identify yourself by name when you start talking. For example, “Hi, Jane, it’s Sophia.”

Speak clearly and directly, and look at the person when addressing him or her.

Use natural conversational tone and speed. Unless the person has a hearing impairment there’s no need to raise your voice.

Address the person by name, so he or she will immediately know that you’re talking to him or her rather than someone who happens to be nearby. (If you don’t know the person’s name, give a light touch on the arm to let the person know you are addressing him or her.)

Be an active listener. Give the person opportunities to talk. Respond with questions and comments to keep the conversation going. Remember, a person experiencing vision loss can’t necessarily see the look of interest on your face, so take care to vocalize your interest (“Yes … I see … I understand,” etc.).

Always answer questions and be specific or descriptive in your responses.

When you enter a room, announce your presence so the person with vision loss knows you’re there. Similarly, if the person enters a room you’re already in, let him or her know you’re there.

Say when you’re leaving a room and where you’re going, if appropriate. For example, say, “I’m going to the kitchen to get a drink of water.”

Indicate the end of a conversation so that the person you’ve been talking to is spared the embarrassment of talking to someone who is no longer there. You could say, “Nice talking to you, Bob. I’ll see you later.”

Additional Resources here.