Adjusting to Vision Loss as You Age

A woman stands with a walker surrounded by Christmas decorations.
Betty stands in the hallway of her apartment.

Betty Zajicek, 84, was diagnosed with macular degeneration eight years ago. When her adult children recently visited her senior apartment, they noticed it seemed dark in her living space and decided to get some help to improve the lighting. Betty did not realize how large of an impact the lack of light had on her independence until she got a home vision rehabilitation visit from Brent Perzentka, the Council’s Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist.

“Brent helped me install some LED lights,” says Betty. “The LED lights make it a lot brighter in the apartment. Before, if I spilled something, I could not see that I spilled it. I would end up stepping in it or tracking it around. Now, I can see well enough to clean up the mess.”

Betty is not alone when it comes to adjusting to vision loss at an older age. According to Family Caregiver Alliance, nearly 3.5 million Americans over 40 have some degree of vision loss. This number is expected to double in the next few decades as the baby boomers grow older.

Did You Know? Most people with age-related vision loss will not become completely blind. Instead, they will experience partial loss of vision.

Eye diseases such as macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy can have a significant impact on functional abilities and quality of life. This is because people might not know of new ways to accomplish tasks.Learning new ways to do things can be challenging.

There are steps one can take to meet the challenges of aging with vision loss. A service many have found helpful is meeting with a vision rehabilitation therapist.

Why Seek Vision Rehabilitation?

A vision rehabilitation therapist provides home, work or school site visits and asks questions to determine the impact of vision loss on daily activities. Potential solutions are recommended, instructions are provided in using adaptive skills and assistive devices, new approaches to common tasks are introduced and suggestions for a safe environment are presented.

Vision Rehabilitation Services are provided in Dane, Sauk, Richland, Grant, Lafayette, and Iowa counties.

“I appreciated that Brent came out to my apartment so I did not have to travel to Madison,” says Betty.

Research has shown that people with low vision tend to have more emotional difficulties and a higher risk of accidents than fully-sighted individuals. People who have undergone rehabilitation, however, report significant progress in their functional abilities, continued use of low vision devices, improvement in reading and distance vision, and general satisfaction with quality of life. This is because a vision rehabilitation therapist can help people find ways to do activities they enjoy in a safe, efficient manner.

Making the Most of Remaining Vision

Betty loves to cook and bake. Due to her vision loss, she had difficulty reading recipes. During their visit, Brent worked with Betty to identify the best handheld magnifiers for reading her recipes. A new magnifier enabled her to participate in social activities and cook/bake again.

“We have potlucks here once a month,” Betty says. “I always make something for that.”

Brent signed Betty up for the talking book program from the Wisconsin Talking Book and Braille Library. Through Brent, Betty learned about adaptive products that have large, bold print, such as a large print address book, a large print wall calendar and some pens that write in big, bold lines. All these are available at the Council’s Sharper Vision Store.

“All these things have been very helpful,” says Betty. “It is nice to be able to see what I am doing.”

How Else Might a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist Help?

A vision rehabilitation therapist can provide support in the following areas:

  • Adapting the home for safety and navigation
  • Improving lighting conditions
  • Preparing meals
  • Labeling medications, clothing, and appliances
  • Writing
  • Keeping financial records
  • Shaving or applying make-up
  • Using magnifiers for easier reading
  • Making phone calls
  • Training to use a tablet, home computer or cell phone

Six Additional Tips for Adjusting to Vision Loss:

  1. Seek services that can help you adjust with vision loss by contacting the Council’s vision services team at 608-255-1166 or the Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired (OBVI) at 888-879-0017. Council services include in-home rehabilitation, assistive technology training and low vision evaluation.
  2. Stay physically active.
  3. Avoid isolation and loneliness by spending time with family, friends and other community members.
  4. Think positively and proactively.
  5. Recognize depression and seek treatment.
  6. Visit your eye doctor regularly. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends individuals age 65 and older get a dilated medical eye exam every year or two, or as recommended by their ophthalmologist.

“After working with Brent at my apartment and using some of his suggestions, I can make better use of my remaining vision,” Betty says. “Brent is knowledgeable and will find things to help you.”

If you would like a vision rehabilitation home visit, contact Brent at (608) 237-8112 or email BPerzentka@WCBlind.org.

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