As our population ages, the incidence of age-related conditions such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetes is increasing. These conditions may result in vision loss that is not correctable with glasses, medication or surgery, commonly called low vision. According to 2010 research by the National Eye Institute, the number of Americans with low vision will grow dramatically, from 2.9 million in 2010, to 5 million in 2030, to 8.9 million in 2050. Because of the gap in male and female life expectancy, women are more likely to experience low vision, especially after the age of 65, when 70%-75% of all new cases occur. Chances are you or someone you know is living with low vision.
A diagnosis of low vision may be a cause for concern, especially if decreased vision results in difficulty in completing everyday tasks. Low vision may also adversely affect safety and independence. Fortunately, the negative consequences of low vision may be significantly reduced by acquiring compensatory skills and utilizing adaptive aids. Persons with poor eyesight, after an adjustment period, often find that they are still able to accomplish almost all the things they have always done. It’s simply a matter of learning how to do them differently.
Learning how to live successfully with low vision is made easier with the help of professionals in the field. Experts such as a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, or an Occupational Therapist can provide valuable insights and resources. They can help identify areas of need and recommend easy, practical solutions. Here are some examples of simple “fixes” for vision.
1. Use tactile markers.
Think about ways you can use your sense of touch rather than sight. Having trouble setting your stove top controls? Mark the control settings with small dots of glue or clear nail polish that you can feel when dry. Put one dot on low, two dots on medium and three dots on high for easy-to-remember temperature settings by touch. Tactile marks are also handy for identifying food items. Canned goods, for instance, may be identified by using a system of rubber bands: one band around canned peas, two bands around canned corn, etc. It’s easy to create your own system that ensures you select the item you prefer.
2. Apply contrasting colors.
Use a dark table cloth with white plates to make dining easier. A dark cutting board for light colored foods and a light cutting board for dark colored foods will help with food preparation. Door frames, trim and light switches may make navigation safer if painted in a color that contrasts with the walls around them. Are stairway steps difficult to see? Add a strip of contrasting colored paint or tape to the edge of each.
3. Adjust the lighting.
Designing appropriating lighting conditions for persons with low vision requires a reduction of overall ambient light corresponding with a greater use of task-specific lighting devices. Glare can be reduced significantly by ensuring that lamp shades are opaque and extend below eye level. Shiny table surfaces may be covered with a cloth, and glare from windows can be controlled with curtains or blinds. When outdoors at night, carry a strong flashlight.
4. Stay organized.
This is a cardinal rule. If you always store items in the same place, it will be easier to retrieve them. In particular, make sure you have an accurate system for organizing and identifying your medications.
5. Safety first.
While reaching down to pick up dropped objects, keep your hand, palm out, about 12 inches in front your face. This way, you don’t hit the edges of tables or counter tops with your forehead. Get in the habit of consistently closing kitchen and bathroom cabinets, especially those above counter tops. Make sure doors are either all the way open or shut. Practicing both of these safety techniques can greatly reduce the risk of head injury. Area rugs can pose a hazard for persons with visual field loss. It’s best to keep home pathways and work areas free of extra floor.
These are just a few of the strategies that can be employed to remain safe and independent while living with low vision. If you or someone you know has low vision, don’t hesitate to seek assistance – you’ll learn that there are professionals and organizations eager to help and that many adjustments are surprisingly easy!