Maintaining Your Independence
If you experience vision loss, rehabilitative services and devices can help you continue to live in your own home and community. Of course, the place to start is with your eye care professional. An ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats eye diseases, in some cases prescribing medications or surgery to improve or prevent the worsening of vision-related conditions. An optometrist diagnoses eye conditions and can prescribe corrective lenses. If the vision loss cannot be completely corrected and interferes with your everyday living, then it is time to consider vision-related rehabilitation services to help maintain or restore independent living skills. Such rehabilitation can help you regain your self-sufficiency and quality of life.
What Are Vision-Related Rehabilitation Services?
Specialized rehabilitation can restore function after vision loss, just as physical therapy restores function after a person loses the use of a limb. Vision-related rehabilitation includes:
- Low vision examinations and devices (such as hand-held magnifiers, high intensity lamps, and other optical and non-optical aids) designed to help you make the best use of remaining vision;
- Individual counseling to help you adjust to vision loss;
- Support groups which give you the opportunity to talk with others about similar problems and ways to cope; and
- Training in adaptive techniques to restore:
- Home and personal management skills (such as meal preparation, personal care techniques, managing money, labeling medications);
- Communication skills (including the use of readers, tape recorders, braille, large print, computers with screen magnification, writing guides, telephones, and timepieces);
- Independent movement and travel skills (learning to orient yourself in familiar and unfamiliar environments, to ask for assistance from others when appropriate, and to move about using a long white cane or other devices).
These services can make a big difference in your life or the life of someone you love.
Who Provides Vision-Related Rehabilitation?
Services are provided by specially trained vision-related rehabilitation professionals, such as:
- Orientation and mobility specialists
- Rehabilitation teachers
- Rehabilitation technology specialists
- Low vision specialists
Where Can You Find These Services?
Many communities have private agencies that serve people who are blind or visually impaired (see Related Publications from AFB Press). Don't be put off by the word "blind"--most agencies assist people with varying degrees of vision loss. Some agencies have fees for services; others do not. Check your local telephone directory, call the American Foundation for the Blind for a referral (800-232-5463), or search the Services Center.
Persons age 55 or over who are experiencing vision loss that interferes with daily living may be able to benefit from a federally-funded program called "Independent Living Services for Older Individuals Who Are Blind." Services are available at no charge to people age 55 and older who have severe visual impairments -- you do not need to be totally blind to qualify. Program requirements vary from state to state. Contact your state's rehabilitation agency for information.
Some rehabilitation services may be offered by eye care clinics, though be aware that Medicare and other health insurance do not usually cover these services. Ask your ophthalmologist or optometrist for further information.
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