Specialized Services for Older Adults Losing Their Sight
Who Is at Risk?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vision impairment is a serious public health concern among older adults. The likelihood of vision loss increases rapidly with age, particularly among those 75 and older (Prevent Blindness America, 2008). Further studies indicate vision loss is associated with chronic health conditions and compromised quality of life, due to depression, social isolation, and decreased capacity to engage in normal everyday activities.
What Do Older Persons with Vision Loss Need?
According to the CDC, older adults need to be educated about the importance of vision health and eye exams. Many eye conditions, such as glaucoma or diabetes, demand ongoing treatment. Those living with vision loss, even if undergoing treatment for conditions such as macular degeneration, need to learn about the services that can help them continue to perform everyday tasks as well as maintain quality of life. Most older adults and their families are unaware that vision rehabilitation services are available.
Vision rehabilitation services include:
- Communication skills, such as reading, writing, and using a computer
- Independent living skills, such as personal self-care, home modifications, leisure activities, using a telephone, and financial management
- Orientation and mobility (i.e., getting around indoors and outdoors safely, and using transportation)
- Low vision evaluation and training with low vision devices, such as handheld and video magnifiers, lighting, and telescopes
- Counseling to help you and your family members adjust to vision loss
Where Can a Person Obtain These Services?
Through state rehabilitation and private agencies, and private practitioners with licensure and certifications. Such professionals include trained orientation and mobility specialists, vision rehabilitation therapists, certified low vision therapists, and occupational therapists with low vision training. Instruction and counseling take place at an agency or in the person's home, although some can take place at a medical clinic or hospital.
What Are the Challenges Facing These Specialized Services?
The increase in the senior population is quickly outnumbering the availability of trained professionals. Federal, state, and local funding is inadequate for service delivery, and Medicare does not cover all specialized service professionals. Assistive technology and low vision devices are not consistently covered by funding sources, including insurance and Medicare.
Legislation for Services
Title VII, Chapter 2 of the Rehabilitation Act provides limited funding for a nationwide service delivery program for older persons with vision loss. The program is administered through state vocational rehabilitation services agencies. However, there simply is not enough funding, and most states have waiting lists. (Further information can be found on the Rehabilitation Services Administration website.)
What Can You Do to Help Older Adults with Visual Impairments?
- Support funding that preserves specialized services provided by agencies that serve people who are blind or visually impaired.
- Ensure that older citizens who are blind or visually impaired receive vision-related services from specially trained professionals, whether at home, at an agency, or at a health care facility.
- Support sufficient funding for university-level programs in rehabilitation teaching, orientation and mobility, and low vision services to ensure adequate numbers of specially trained professionals.
Support Specialized Services
Remember, vision loss can affect every one of us. And every one of us deserves to lead a life of independence and dignity. Specialized services are a vital step toward that life.
- Use AFB's Directory of Services to find local providers of services for people who are blind or visually impaired
- Sign up for AFB's DirectConnect newsletter to stay informed about public policy issues relating to blindness
- Learn more about Eye Conditions that affect older adults, and Independent Living Skills
- Join the VisionAware community for tips, resources, product information, and emotional support