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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Family Members' Reactions to an Older Relative's Vision Loss

As you deal with the feelings your older relative may be having as a result of vision loss, you may also experience an array of your own reactions. In the words of one family member: "Family members need help coping too."

You may experience denial of vision loss as did a daughter who expressed this feeling, "I became really depressed when I found out about my mother's vision loss. At first I denied it." Just as the older person with the vision loss is often unable to accept what has happened, family members may not believe that their older relative has permanent vision loss and may seek numerous medical opinions. They may continue to act as if the vision loss has not occurred and continue to treat the older person with a visual impairment as a fully sighted person.

You may feel embarrassed about your older relative's vision loss and want to avoid being seen in public or even with friends. An adult son discussed his concerns saying, "My Dad has never reconciled himself to Mom's vision loss. He feels everything should stay the same and he is embarrassed when we they go out in public, such as to a restaurant and my mother tries to read the menu up close."

You may not understand about vision loss, its impact, and how it affects everyday life as expressed by an adult daughter, "Neither my sister not I had any idea of the impact of vision loss on our Mom. We thought Mom would just be able to figure out how to cope, adjust, and just go on normally." On the other hand, you may become concerned about the safety of your older relative who may wish to continue to cook and carry out household chores. You may worry that your older relative will burn him or herself or even catch the home on fire. As a result, you may conclude that your older relative can no longer remain in his or her own home and may decide you have to move him/her to your home, to an assisted living facility or to an institutionalized setting.

You may become angry or confused when your older relative insists that you not rearrange the furniture, food supplies or clothing closet without letting him/her know before hand. You may resent that it may take the older person longer to complete shopping or that extra time may be needed for completing chores, and you may think it would just be easier to do these tasks for your older relative. One adult son expressed his anger as follows, "I wake up very angry sometimes about having to take over being the parent. I feel stuck."

You may feel guilty about a number of things such as not being able to find the right doctor who can "fix" your older relative's eye problem as did this daughter, "I am just plain tired of going to bed every night feeling guilty." You may feel that you have to take over for your older relative and may feel badly about having a busy life and not always being available to "take care" of your relative. In turn, he or she may say or do things that contribute to your guilt. Often guilt can turn into resentment toward an older relative, the eye care professional, God, or life in general.

You may feel sad or depressed about your older relative's eye condition. You may think about "how Dad used to be" before he lost his spunk and independence. This sadness may even turn into grieving for the "old" Dad or Mom as articulated by these family members, "I have not coped well. I still have trouble and get very upset." "I miss my mother's laugh." "I have a great sadness."

As a result of the reactions that you and your older relative may be experiencing due to vision loss, misunderstandings may arise and communication may become complicated. Family members may have a difficult time being open and honest about the changes in family dynamics due to the onset of vision loss. Just remember the feelings you and your older relative are having are normal and that services are available to help you and your older relative with the adjustment process and with concrete suggestions for enabling the older person to remain as independent as possible. As a family member, be an enabler not a roadblock to this desired independence. Your older family member is the same person and wants to continue to be as independent as possible. He or she just does not see well any more.

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