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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Stretch and Go: Strategies for Encouraging Exercise in Older Adults with Vision Loss

senior man and woman stretching their arms over their heads, smiling

From Chapter 6 of the book, O&M for Independent Living: Strategies for Teaching Orientation and Mobility to Older Adults, edited by Nora Griffin-Shirley and Laura Bozeman.

Since orientation and mobility is a critical part of life for the older adult with visual impairment, fitness can be the key to continued independence and participation for that person. Often, O&M is the method for accessing exercise classes or establishing a fitness routine that involves walking. With age, exercise and fitness for both the mind and body remain important to good health.

When working with older adults to begin an exercise program, it is important to obtain permission from the client’s physician for any physical activity that constitutes a significant change from the person’s typical routine. The O&M instructor may advocate for a low-impact exercise such as walking or tai chi. It is always a good idea to suggest that older adults increase physical activity slowly and incrementally. Depending on the type of exercise, a client may be advised to increase intensity or duration a little bit on a weekly basis.

O&M specialists can use the following strategies to motivate older clients with vision loss to participate in physical fitness activities.

  • Have older adults try new recreational activities with a friend or family member.
  • Plan transportation and practice routes to and within a client’s fitness facility to help the client move around independently.
  • Make sure any educational materials offered by a client’s fitness facility are provided to the client in an accessible form to ensure he or she is well informed.
  • Suggest older adults maintain exercise journals to track the effects of exercise and its impact on O&M. Experiment with low vision devices to determine which devices work best for specific activities.
  • Role play advocating for accommodations or interacting with exercise instructors when necessary.

Older adults with visual impairment should make use of all strategies that fit their individual lifestyles to keep active, fit, and mobile. Fitness is an integral part of O&M and a foundation for safe and independent travel.

More exercise tips, and strategies for teaching O&M to older adults can be found in the AFB Press book O&M for Independent Living, available for sale in the AFB Store at www.afb.org/store or by calling 1-800-232-3044.

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