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By Kevin Damask, staff writer with the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired

National Family Caregivers Month honors the compassionate family members, friends and neighbors, along with dedicated paid caregivers, who help a growing population of aging and disabled adults.

According to the National Care Planning Council, about 20 percent of people in the U.S. provide part-time or full-time care for someone in need. Formal caregivers serve as either volunteers or paid care providers hired through a service system. Informal caregivers tend to be family, friends, neighbors or church members who lend unpaid care to a disabled or aging person.

About 75 percent of caregivers are also still employed full or part-time and many have to readjust their work schedules, take on less hours, or accept an unpaid leave to provide care. 

While many family members have a strong desire to serve as caregivers for their loved ones, it can be quite stressful. When working with someone with a visual impairment, there are specific tips that can reduce stress on the caregiver, as well as provide the best care possible for the individual with vision loss. Prevent Blindness lists four elements of success in living with low vision: tenacity, adaptability, support, and knowledge.

Tenacity represents the goal of finding new directions. If a caregiver is persistent in searching for valuable tools and resources to maintain a high level of care, the person receiving care should enjoy a good quality of life.

Adaptability reflects a desire to change how things are done. Most people have little or no control over how they lose their vision, but choices can be made to adapt to living with it.

Support highlights the importance of “cope-ability,” according to Prevent Blindness. For caregivers, providing understanding and assistance is very important when caring for someone with low vision.

Knowledge is the most effective defense against the effects of vision loss because it helps the caregiver provide better care when they know what resources to utilize.

Prevent Blindness lists 12 specific tips when caring for someone who is visually impaired:

-  Use contrasting colors and limit the number of colors to avoid confusion.

-  When writing, use a dark, bold pen or marker (not a pencil) and don’t use cursive.

-  When using email in rich text, increase the font size to at least 16 points. Use fonts that are easier to read. 

-  Spend time learning about low vision technology and devices.

-  Use simple ways to help the care recipient easily adapt their home for a safer environment.

-  Assist the recipient in “seeing” with their ears with descriptive accounts of locations, people and objects.

-  When serving a meal, use the “clock face” method to help the recipient find food on their plate.

-  Include the recipient in social gatherings and encourage them to participate in a support group.

-  When guiding the recipient, allow them to grasp your arm. While using stairs, proceed one step ahead.

-  While guiding to a seat, let the recipient touch the chair or bench first, to allow them to seat themselves.

-  Let them know that good nutrition and exercise is important for a healthy life.

-  A trained professional can also provide low vision rehabilitation services, which is vital for continuing care.

For more information, go to www.preventblindness.org.