Caring for a Visually Impaired Loved One

Losing your sight or becoming visually impaired is common with age, whether it’s through age-related macular degeneration or [another condition]) “Clouded Sight: Living With Cataracts”). It’s estimated that up to roughly 12 to 15 percent of seniors live with visual impairment. According to the CDC, 3.22 million Americans of all ages had some sort of vision impairment in 2015, and that number is expected to grow to nearly seven million by 2050.

If someone you care for or live with is visually impaired, you may be called upon to help out or to act as a primary caregiver. This responsibility may seem scary, but with the right planning and support, you can ensure that a partial or total lack of sight doesn’t majorly affect your loved one’s standard of living.

Take Advantage of Local Resources

We won’t beat around the bush, being a caregiver can be time-consuming or difficult, especially if you’re doing it by yourself. That’s why it’s important to remember that you don’t have to go it alone. There are many organizations and services out there to help the visually impaired and their caregivers. Many of these are specific to your region or state, but we’ll provide a few examples near where our main office is currently located (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). Hopefully, this illustrates just how many services are available in a single region.

Helpful Organizations Near Harrisburg, PA

The Pennsylvania state Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services can help the visually impaired do everything from finding a job, to learning life skills, to living independently. Regional organizations, like Vision Resources of Central Pennsylvania (VROCP), can do many of the services of the state bureau with a regional focus. The VROCP is affiliated with the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind, another statewide organization offering aid and services to the visually impaired. Other groups include the Keystone Blind Association and the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind. Remember, these are only examples within a single region of Pennsylvania. Your area likely has helpful organizations that you can find with a little searching or by using VisionAware’s service directory!

Providers & Additional Support

Outside of these organizations, you can continue to assemble a team of specialists and caregivers to help you to help your loved one. Your loved one’s primary care physician can be an invaluable supporting care provider who can help you with health suggestions and may even be able to guide you toward further support. Another important person to add to your “team” is a mental health expert or psychiatrist. The visually impaired are nearly twice as likely to develop depression and other mental health issues than “normal-sighted” people, so having that mental health assistance on hand can prevent issues from developing. The last type of support group we want to mention (though there are more out there) is a vision rehabilitation services team. Vision rehabilitation is a mix of specialties that’s focused on improving your vision (if possible) or helping the impaired to regain independence and live with their weakening sight or blindness. Your options will vary, depending on your location.

Finding your loved one a good Medicare plan may actually help cover many of their medical bills related to their visual impairment.

If you can afford one, a service dog can also make an excellent addition to any care team you build. While Medicare does not cover service animals, it may help with other costs related to your disability (e.g., durable medical equipment or mental health coverage). Finding your loved one a good Medicare plan may actually help cover many of their medical bills related to their visual impairment.

Make the House Safe

Once you have the support system set up, you’ll need to make sure your loved one’s house is safe for them to navigate. The degree to which you may need to make changes depends entirely on their visual capabilities. The most significant change you can make, though, is making your home fall-proof. Falls are a primary cause of fractures, which can lead to injury or even death. Preventing falls in any senior home is important, but with the added danger of vision impairment, it becomes even more essential. Check out our article “How to Prevent Fall Risks for Seniors at Home” for our fall-proofing tips!

For seniors who aren’t fully blind, utilizing contrasting colors to make things stand out can really help.

Removing fall hazards is only a small part of making the house safer for your impaired loved one, however. There are other potential hazards in the home. For seniors who aren’t fully blind, utilizing contrasting colors to make things stand out can really help. For example, making outlets a different color from the wall can help them to safely plug electrical items in. Having towels that stand out from the wall can help them dry off after a shower, preventing a fall risk. It may also help to pick appliances that are easily used by the visually impaired, unless their vision is so bad that someone else needs to do the chores for them. If an emergency ever should arise, make sure they have a phone nearby, with large type or braille, so that they can easily call you, or an emergency contact like 9-1-1, if needed.

Plan for Excursions and Chores

Of course, there will be times when your loved one will want or need to leave the house. As their caregiver, you’ll need to plan for these times. If you live with your loved one, like if they’re a spouse or a parent who’s moved in with you, this may be much easier. You can drive or accompany them on running errands, like grocery shopping. It may also be helpful to work out a schedule with your family or friends so that all the caregiving responsibility is not on you. Setting a specific time for specific chores with everyone helping out can prevent caregiver burnout, one of the more common conditions facing caregivers.

A meeting with their doctor or an optometrist can help say whether or not it’s time to stop driving.

The big question that you’ll face is whether or not your loved one should be driving. Being able to drive is a major point of independence, but it’s also a massive responsibility. If your loved one’s vision is so impaired that they become a danger to themselves or others on the road, it’s likely time for them to give up their license and figure out alternative methods of getting around. There’s no shame in this, especially if they’re struggling to read road signs or see other cars’ signals clearly. A meeting with their doctor or an optometrist can help say whether or not it’s time to stop driving.

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Losing your sight can feel devastating, and if it’s happening to someone you love, it’s natural you’ll want to be there for them to help out. Remember, just because they’re visually impaired doesn’t mean they’re helpless. Offer assistance if they need it, but don’t make them feel useless. That said, if you’re acting as a caregiver for somebody who’s experiencing vision impairment, you’re not alone in this either. There is support for you in the form of your friends and family, specialized organizations, and articles like this!

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