A Caregiver's Guide to Coping With Vision Loss

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Losing one's vision can be frightening, and losing the ability to care for yourself is something none of us want to ever think about. Many of us don't realize how much we rely on visual cues to accomplish all that we do in a single day. Vision loss—even mild vision loss—can be devastating and life-changing. Conditions such as glaucomamacular degenerationretinal detachments and retinitis pigmentosa can all cause people to slowly lose vision over time.

When it happens to you or someone you love, all sorts of emotions may be experienced. The effects can be both physical and emotional, affecting not only the person suffering the loss, but also their family, friends and the loved ones around them. Normal, everyday tasks such as dressing in the morning or cooking a favorite meal can become quite difficult, even impossible, causing a loss of independence and severe anxiety. Caring for someone with vision loss can also be physically and emotionally draining. Learning ways to help others cope with vision loss can greatly ease the fears and emotional turmoil that it causes.

Vision Loss and Grief

Some doctors compare the initial reaction to vision loss to the different stages of grief after the loss of a loved one. The person experiencing the vision loss often goes through the same process. Grieving is a natural response to a significant loss. The stages of grief include denial, depression, anger, and then finally acceptance.

Understanding the feelings that go along with these stages can greatly help to ease fears in order to move forward:

  • Denial: When someone receives news about a significant loss, a feeling of disbelief overtakes them. Even after some time has passed, these feelings of disbelief can occur again and again.
  • Depression: Feelings of sadness and isolation are hard to overcome. A person will feel alone, thinking that no one else could possibly understand the impact of their loss. These feelings of sadness tend to make people withdraw from their usual social lives, leaving them with feelings of hopelessness.
  • Anger: A person with vision loss may ask "why me?" As feelings of depression start to lessen, extra energy is available to express feelings of anger. Anger helps people to move forward and direct their grief and depression outward. 
  • Acceptance: During the final stage of grief, a sense of hope starts to return. One begins to experience periods of hope for the future. With this hope comes the acquiring of new skills that enable a return to normal activities.

Vision Loss and Isolation

One of the most important ways to help someone with vision loss is to help them believe that they are not alone. Vision loss affects over 6.5 million people in the United States aged 55 and over. It is important to let loved ones know that they can reach out to others experiencing vision loss as well as professionals such as their eye doctor, low vision specialists, or someone specializing in occupational therapy.

In modern day society, there are numerous resources that can be accessed.

VisionAware is a website sponsored by the American Foundation for the Blind and Reader's Digest Partners for Sight Foundation. It offers a state by state directory of services for the visually impaired. People are there to help.

A Return to Normal

As caregiver, assure your patient or loved one that if they are willing to make adjustments, it is possible for them to continue to enjoy their favorite hobbies and activities. The more they are willing to continue to participate in society, the easier it will be for them to continue their favorite activities.

Let them know that they don't have to stop working either. Although there are exceptions for certain jobs, many people who develop vision loss continue in their current professions. You've probably come into contact with people every day with low vision and didn’t realize it because they are functioning at a very high level, even with decreased vision.

Reaching Out for Help

When they are ready, you may consider enrolling your loved one in a class to learn new skills for regaining independence. Classes are taught by vision mobility specialists who help teach alternative techniques to maintain independence. Occupational therapists also teach mobility and motor skills that are required to function with low vision.

Solutions and tools are available to assist in cooking a favorite meal in the kitchen safely, getting around efficiently in the home, paying bills alone, and performing other tasks that are essential to everyday living. Technology has advanced to assist with these activities. Computers and appliances can be adapted to better suit someone with decreased vision.

Tips for Coping

Those with significant vision loss can be taught how to continue living a productive life. Following is a list of hints and tips for helping someone with reduced vision learn how to cope with everyday activities:

  • High powered eyeglass lenses can magnify reading material.
  • High powered magnifying lenses with built-in lighting can be used for reading and other small items that need to be seen clearly.
  • Digital magnifying devices use video or pictures to enlarge certain items for viewing.
  • Many books, newspapers, and magazines are available in a large print format.
  • Audio tapes allow enjoyment of books that are more difficult to read.
  • Removing clutter and repositioning furniture make it easier to walk between rooms or up  stairwells.
  • Increasing the number and the brightness of the lights and lamps around the house can aid in vision.
  • Installing better task lighting under kitchen cabinets and stoves can aid in cooking and preparing meals.
  • Installing better lighting at your home or workplace can help with daily tasks.
  • Keeping regular visits to the optometrist or ophthalmologist can keep a check on your eye and vision health. Correcting vision problems in addition to using low vision devices will better utilize the remaining functional vision.

A Word From Verywell

If a loved one has suffered vision loss, there are some things you can do and say that will be very helpful. You must think very hard about their situation. A family member or friend of someone who has experienced vision loss becomes an important partner in the process of vision rehabilitation. Your friend or family member who has experienced vision loss may be experiencing great stress and anxiety when they begin to find it very difficult or impossible to write, read, or drive. Here are here are some tips to help your loved-one better cope with their vision loss:

  • Avoid being overprotective.
  • Help build self-confidence.
  • Recognize progress being made.
  • Encourage self-reliance.
  • Don’t be afraid. Ask directly how you can assist.
  • Ask before helping to encourage independence.
  • Let them know that you are available and always there if they need help with something specific.
  • Talk about their issues and don’t be afraid to help find solutions together.

Source:

American Optometric Association, Care of the Patient with Visual Impairment; Low Vision Rehabilitation. Optometric Clinical Practice Guideline, 18 Oct 2007. 

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