Low vision is reduced vision that can’t be corrected with lenses, and occurs primarily in older adults. The degree of debilitation varies from senior to senior, but common complaints include blurred vision, tunnel vision, blind spots, or difficulty seeing up close or far away. It differs from blindness in that seniors still retain some vision, but not enough to go about daily activities completely independently. As it’s not an easy part of aging to adjust to or plan for, here’s how caregivers can help seniors who have low vision.
What to Say
Seniors can feel frustrated, frightened and angry at having their vision “stolen” from them, as it can prevent them from enjoying the activities they’ve grown to love. The main thing caregivers can say is to express their understanding of the senior’s low vision, and do so in a way that that’s sympathetic, not pitying.
As a caregiver, I find one of the key phrases that works best for seniors with low vision is, “What can I do to help you feel at ease, or make your life easier?” Seniors’ minds can’t be read, but they’ll appreciate a caregiver who takes the time to find out what will help them instead of what’s easy. Often times, seniors may want to vent about their low vision and as caregivers, listening is part of our responsibility. We don’t always have to be rushing around fetching things or moving seniors into more comfortable positions, as our title—giver of care—is open to many different interpretations.
Other verbalizations we can offer seniors may not even come in the way of asking them questions, but in reading them their favorite books, stories or newspapers. Without a low vision aid, seniors can miss out on being involved with the world by not being able to read the words in front of them. Once I’ve established a relationship with each senior and gotten to know their likes and dislikes, tastes, and preferences, I can jump right in and read to them in the way they’re used to. Some seniors like me to pause in the middle and engage in conversation about what we’re reading, while others just want to be around a soothing voice. It’s up to you as the caregiver to take the time to learn your senior’s personality.
What to Do
It’s important, as a caregiver, to help seniors retain as much independence and quality of life as possible. While they may not be able to do activities like driving or navigating new places easily, low vision doesn’t mean they’re cut off from life entirely. Rather, it’s just a bit of a learning curve to find the ideal point between what seniors are willing to do, what they can do, and what may be a danger for them to do.
Many senior-oriented activities are an excellent choice because they cater to their needs and offer experiences at a more relaxed pace, and there’s almost nothing that’s not a possibility. Even activities like cards, yoga, swimming or lawn bowling—activities where people usually think eyesight is key—are great for seniors.
Assisting seniors with activities may mean you have to take on a more physical role than usual, but it’s best to check with the senior just how much they’re comfortable with. Some of my seniors are fine with plenty of human contact, while others will only accept the bare minimum. With the latter, I can take them swimming and be there right beside them in the pool, guiding them along. For the latter, activities like Bingo are better suited for us.
What to Bring
If seniors have been diagnosed with low vision, they most likely have their own array of equipment and tools to help them along each day, such as digital magnifiers, speech recognition software, lighted handheld magnifiers, bioptic telescopes, special light fixtures, UV tinted eyewear, large-print material, visors, and many others.
I also find that most seniors are pretty comfortable with me bringing my own equipment to them, as long as I explain what it is first, how they can use it, and go at a slow, relaxed pace. Low vision is frightening enough for seniors without them needing to feel pressured or burdened by a caregiver “knowing all”, so take the time to establish trust right off the bat.
Another thing seniors appreciate is when I use my eyes to help theirs, such as rearranging a table lamp so it’s placed right on the task we’ll be doing, and shading the glare or reflection from their eyes. They still have some eyesight left, but their eyes tend to be more sensitive now. If possible, I also engage them away from reflective surfaces like Formica counter tops, ensure there’s not a huge difference in light levels, and place them with their backs to windows
One of my seniors impacted by low vision tends to be particularly affected by bright lights, so when we gather with other seniors to play Bingo, I take extra care in seating him. I wheel him to a section of the table where he’s in the middle of the overhead lights, give him his visor to put on, and take a few minutes to explain to him what his Bingo card numbers are (he has a very sharp memory and can recall all of them). Once the game starts, my role becomes just to watch and see he’s in comfort, and make sure he slides the right window on his Bingo card.
Being a caregiver for seniors with low vision is no different than being a caregiver in general. It’s just a matter of getting used to what they need, depending on the severity of their low vision and if it’s accompanied by any other conditions. It can also create a deeper bond between senior and caregiver because the latter is literally acting as the eyes for the former, and they become intertwined on a primal level.
Contributed by Jan Bolder from LivingSenior.com