Tips for Family Members of Older Visually Impaired Persons
Age-related vision loss is not uncommon and, understandably, has a strong emotional impact on both the person affected and those who are close to that person. As a relative or friend, you worry about possible reactions and outcomes. Will the person become anxious and dependent? Will long-established relationships change as a result?
Those are all possibilities but by no means inevitable. A person whose vision is deteriorating faces the challenge of learning new ways to do day-to-day tasks, getting around at home and outside, participating in family activities—in short, leading a normal life. Vision rehabilitation services will provide the training to make that goal a reality.
You, as a family member or friend, have a key role to play as well in offering emotional reassurance and practical support. This section of AFB's web site includes a wide range of information and advice on how to ensure that the person with low vision can continue to be independent and productive. Be sure to explore all of the resources on AFB Senior Site®, as well.
Encourage Eye Examinations
- Make sure your friend or relative is examined by an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor who specializes in eye diseases.
- Be certain, too, that your friend or relative is evaluated by a low vision specialist, an ophthalmologist or optometrist with a specialization in low vision. The low vision specialist can help the individual make the best use of remaining vision by prescribing low vision devices, such as handheld magnifiers, high-intensity lighting, and other devices.
Know About Vision-Related Rehabilitation Services
- Be aware of the vision-related rehabilitation services provided by state and private agencies serving blind and visually impaired persons. These include independent living skills training—learning adaptive techniques for carrying out activities of daily living—and orientation and mobility training—learning how to orient oneself to familiar and unfamiliar environments and how to move about within them, including travel with the use of the long white cane.
- Find out how to access these rehabilitation services by contacting your state agency serving blind and visually impaired people, or a local private agency serving older persons who are visually impaired. Check your local telephone directory, or call the American Foundation for the Blind for a referral, 1-800-232-5463. You can also search the Services section of this web site.
- For more information, see Navigating the System.
Support Your Friend or Relative During Rehabilitation
- When you find out about the vision rehabilitation services in your community, explain them to your family member. Encourage the person to participate, but leave the decision up to him or her.
- Get involved in the independent living skills training. Learn as many of the adaptive techniques as you can. That way you can offer encouragement and reinforcement to your friend or relative about the new skills.
- Encourage your friend or relative to be independent at home and in the community. It can help to make adaptations within the home, such as rearranging furniture for greater ease of movement, improving lighting, and using contrasting colors for greater visibility, such as placing a dark chair against a light-colored wall or a light sofa on a dark panel wall. These strategies make it easier to locate the furniture.
Make This a Family Affair
- Foster open communication among family members about the impact of vision loss on individual family members.
- Support your visually impaired family member's interest and ability to continue or resume important activities and tasks.
- Create opportunities for interdependence among members of the family. Remember that your visually impaired relative can be both a recipient and provider of assistance within the family across generations.
- Find out from a local agency serving older persons who are blind or visually impaired if there are support groups for newly visually impaired people. Also inquire about family caregiver support groups. If such groups don't exist, think about starting one!
Remember, your family member can still be a productive and contributing member of your family and your community. You can help your relative look toward a future of independence, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
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