Caring for Seniors with Vision Loss
Advice for families and caregivers
Vision loss can be traumatic as it directly affects a person's ability to be independent and to participate in ordinary activities. Caregivers can help parents deal with their sadness over vision loss and encourage them to become as independent as possible.
What can I do to help my parent cope with vision loss?
How do I know which things I need to do for my parent who has vision loss and which to let him do?
Do any foods prevent vision loss? Do any foods contribute to it?
My parent is depressed that the vision loss has led to so many changes in life. How can I help?
My parent is anxious and afraid as a result of vision loss. How can I help?
My parent who has vision loss was told to stop smoking. How can I help?
How do I go about finding a caregiver for my parent who has lost vision?
It will be very helpful if your parent participates in programs designed to rehabilitate his or her vision. This doesn't mean restoring the previous level of vision, but it does mean maximizing what your parent does still have and learning how to be independent and safe. For example, your parent can learn how to get around outdoors and how to safely do things such as cook and clean. So your parent may be able to be more independent than you realize. Vision rehabilitation programs are offered by both state and independent agencies. You can check your local telephone directory, or call the American Foundation for the Blind, at 1-800-232-5463, for a referral.
Beyond finding the right programs for your parent, you can support his or her wish to be independent and praise any success at learning new ways to do things. This will reinforce your parent's sense of accomplishment and help counteract frustration and sadness over the vision loss. In addition, you can make the following modifications to your parent's living space:
- Get rid of anything your parent could trip on, such as coffee tables, toys on the floor, throw rugs.
- Make sure there are clear pathways within and to each room.
- Paint doors and trim a color that contrasts with the wall colors, so they will stand out more. Do the same with banisters.
- Put yellow strips on the edge of each step and also at the beginning and end of ramps.
- Install grab bars for the tub and shower.
Only your parent has the answer. Ask your parent and let him or her tell you what kinds of help, if any, would be appreciated. If the vision loss is relatively new, it's possible your parent may just feel frustrated and not yet know what kinds of help he or she needs. Many elders have been raised to be self-reliant, are uncomfortable asking for or receiving assistance, and don't like to be a burden to others. Most appreciate the opportunity to learn how to be as self-reliant as possible, but despite that, the vision loss may require some dependence on others. Try to be as understanding as possible during the adjustment period, during which anger and frustration may be simmering.
Recent studies have found that those who eat large amounts of certain carbohydrates that cause blood sugar levels to rise and then fall rapidly may have a greater chance of developing central vision loss as they age. Examples of these foods are: white bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, sugar and corn syrup.
On the other hand, foods rich in antioxidants have been found to help prevent vision loss, and these include: whole grains, vegetable oil, eggs, nuts, meat, poultry, fish, dairy, carrots, kale, spinach, citrus fruits, green peppers and broccoli. Eating food from this group could help your parent's vision over the long run.
Your parent will have to mourn the loss of his or her previous life and gradually come to terms with the new one. Here's how you can help:
- Encourage your parent to join a support group, where others in the same situation share their feelings about and strategies to cope with vision loss.
- Encourage your parent to participate in vision rehabilitation programs, and then accompany him or her to some. This will teach you what your parent can do independently, enabling you to support his or her successes.
- Encourage your parent to get counseling from someone trained to deal with vision issues, either individually or in a group setting.
You can encourage your parent to try a relaxation technique, which should reduce anxiety levels and give him or her some sense of control. There are many different techniques. Give your parent information about them and see if he or she would feel comfortable trying one.
Most people with vision loss are told to stop smoking, as smoking can double their chance of developing macular degeneration, one of the main causes of vision loss in seniors. Encourage your parent to get help to stop smoking and reinforce any efforts made in that direction.
Care.com is a website that lists people throughout the United States who provide care to seniors, includes photos and descriptions of their experience, and does free background checks for members. You can search by zip code. For specific listings, go to Care.com.