Dear Savvy Senior,
What resources can you recommend to help seniors with vision loss? My husband, who’s 76, has macular degeneration that has progressed to the point that he can’t do a lot of his routine activities anymore, and has become very discouraged.
Looking for Help
Unfortunately, there are around 15 million Americans, like your husband, living with macular degeneration today. Over time, this progressive disease can rob people of their central vision, making everyday tasks like driving a car, reading the newspaper or watching television extremely challenging. Here are some resources that can help.
Low Vision Help
The best place to get help living and coping with macular degeneration is at a vision rehabilitation agency or clinic. Typically run by state or nonprofit organizations, or private eye care clinics, there are more than 1,500 of these services scattered across the country that help people who are living with all types of uncorrectable vision impairments. Most state and nonprofit vision rehabilitation services are free or low-cost, while private clinics typically charge a fee or may accept Medicare.
While vision rehabilitation does not restore lost sight, it does help people maximize their existing sight, or, if they have no vision, it can equip them with techniques and tools to help them maintain an independent lifestyle.
Services include counseling, along with training on how to perform daily living tasks with low vision, and how to use visual and adaptive devices and assistive technologies that can help improve quality of life.
They also offer guidance for adapting your home that will make it safer and easier for your husband to maneuver, and can help him locate low-vision support groups. Some agencies will even send their specialist out to work with him in the comfort of your own home.
To find a vision rehabilitation service in your area, call the American Foundation for the Blind referral line at 800-232-5463 or visit VisionAware.org/directory. Or, if you use a smartphone or tablet, download their VisionConnect app (see AFB.org/VisionConnect), which connects you to all types of low-vision resources in your area.
If, however, you don’t live near a vision rehabilitation service, you can also get help from an occupational therapist (OT), who can provide low vision training in your home. Medicare, if prescribed by your eye doctor or healthcare provider, covers this.
Another convenient place to find help for your husband is online at VisionAware.org. This free website, created by the American Foundation for the Blind and the Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation, is designed to help older adults who are losing their sight.
It provides information on eye conditions, along with dozens of practical tips and instructional videos on living with vision loss, including concepts for adapting your home to make it easier to navigate, techniques for traveling safely outside the home, and various tips on how to manage things like finances, medications, and other tasks like cooking, cleaning, grooming, reading, writing and more.
It also offers a comprehensive list of low vision products and technologies that can help your husband stay active and independent, including product reviews that are published in their online magazine called AccessWorld that you can access at AFB.org/aw.
Some other good resources that can help include: the Hadley Institute (Hadley.edu, 800-323-4238), which offers dozens of free online instructional videos to help the blind or visually impaired live independently. Ears for Eyes (EarsForEyes.info, 800-843-6816) that provides free audio lessons that teach low-vision adaptive daily living skills. And Living Well with Low Vision (LowVision.PreventBlindness.org, 800-331-2020), which offers up-to-date information and free materials for people living with sever vision impairment.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.