For millions of seniors, low vision not only impairs their ability to see less over time but significantly affects their quality of life. Depending on its severity, it can make daily tasks challenging for older adults and unlike common vision issues such as nearsightedness or farsightedness, it can’t be corrected with standard eyeglasses or surgery. According to the scientific journal American Family Physician, one in three individuals aged 65 or older possesses some form of vision-reducing eye disease, including cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.
Because low vision is a gradual process, its early signs can easily be overlooked or misattributed to other aging-related conditions such as dementia. However, recognizing these initial signs is crucial, as they can indicate more serious underlying health issues.
What You Need to Know About Low Vision
If you suspect your loved one may be suffering from low vision, here are some important facts and warning signs you should be mindful of to help you determine next steps:
1. Warning Signs
Your loved one may have low vision if they struggle to distinguish colors, read, drive safely, and view a television or computer screen clearly. Look for signs such as them wearing mismatched or stained clothes, constantly spilling drinks or food, not recognizing people they know, or frequently calling the wrong phone number.
2. Related Conditions
Low vision can be a symptom of other conditions, including Diabetes and neurologic conditions such as Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease. If your loved one has a history of any of these conditions, they are at a higher risk of suffering from low vision.
3. Weakened Hearing or Other Senses
Adapting to vision impairment when paired with other weakened senses due to old age, like hearing, smell or taste, can be particularly difficult for seniors. This can also make activities of daily living even more difficult. For example, if your loved one is hard of hearing, they may rely heavily on visual cues, but when that also becomes compromised, it can have a greater effect on their ability to carry out tasks and function independently.
4. Varying Degrees of Low Vision
Vision loss can manifest in different ways, which causes confusion because an individual with this condition may be capable of performing one task while struggling with another. For example, a person with Macular Degeneration, which impacts central vision, may not recognize a family member but can easily pick up a safety pin off the floor.
Steps for Safely Aging in Place
Low vision does not have to equate to low ability. If your loved one is exhibiting symptoms of low vision, here are some steps you and your family can take to help preserve their quality of life and safeguard their well-being over the long term:
1. Get a Diagnosis
The first step towards helping them is to seek a professional diagnosis. The only way to ensure whether your loved one has low vision is to visit an eye care professional for a comprehensive dilated eye exam. This exam, in particular, allows your eye care professional to view the back of your loved one’s eyes using light when their eyes are dilated to look for signs of damage or disease and accurately determine whether they have low vision.
2. Offer Emotional Support
Losing one’s vision can be devastating, as we often do not realize how much we rely on visual cues for everyday life until our ability to do so is compromised. In fact, doctors compare the initial reaction to vision loss to the five stages of grief experienced after losing a loved one. Hence, the news of vision loss can trigger a strong reaction in your loved one, but when you view their response as them working through the stages of grief, you’re better equipped to help them process their emotions and communicate effectively with them.
3. Discuss Health Support Options
Assure your loved one they are not alone in their struggle, as more than 12 million Americans over 40 have vision impairment, according to the CDC, and there are more resources and support options now than ever. From support groups and mental health professionals specializing in vision loss to occupational therapists teaching mobility and motor skills to function with low vision, there is an entire community dedicated to maintaining a healthy quality of life after a low vision diagnosis.
4. Plan for the Future
The severity of your loved one’s vision loss will dictate the measures you and your family must take to protect their well-being. For those who can still function at a high level, simple adjustments can be made to their everyday life. For example, removing clutter and any fall hazards in the home, ensuring adequate lighting, and providing protective eyewear for activities like gardening or chores around the house can make a significant difference. You’ll also want to schedule eye exams—specifically a comprehensive eye exam with dilation every one to two years—to monitor the progression of their vision loss.
For older adults with moderate to severe vision loss, living alone can be too dangerous without another person to provide daily support, whether it’s a family member, health professional or a trained caregiver. In these circumstances, finding support at home for activities of daily living is essential to keeping their independence.
Finding Support at Home
It’s important to recognize that if your loved one is experiencing low vision, the severity of their visual impairment may increase over time. Hence, as you plan and discuss options with your family, consider the best course of action in the long term. If they can safely function on their own, you will still eventually want an individual at home to help monitor their symptoms and health as symptoms progress.
For those struggling to maintain their independence due to low vision, HomeWell Care Services offers something unique—a specialized care approach designed by industry experts to help them navigate their homes, complete everyday tasks and enjoy a higher quality of life. Our Low Vision specialized care offering is led by our expert Care Managers and administered by trained caregivers to provide seniors like your loved one with the support they need at home.