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Helping seniors with vision and hearing impairments

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
November 23, 2018

Macular degeneration and Glaucoma, two very different types of sight reducing conditions, but both can render those affected to a life of struggle and isolation.   It is vitally important to understand exactly what it’s like to see and how difficult, simple everyday day tasks can become.   

It’s extremely important that CAREGivers understand exactly what their clients experience daily.  

Based on our experience in providing senior home care services, we have worked out the best ways to ensure they overcome these setbacks and retain their dignity and independence…and there is a lot you can do to reduce the impact of their impairments on their everyday life.

To assist those with vision loss:

Ensure their living areas are very well lit, without glare.

Use lots of contrasting colors to make sure things such as door trims, steps, light switches, etc. stand out.

Keep their spectacles and magnifying glasses scrupulously clean.

Refrain from moving furniture or furnishings as it can lead to disorientation and falls.

Remove/reduce potential hazards such as rugs, ottomans and coffee tables.

Install phones with oversized numbers.

Look for books with large, sans-serif type (or audio books if suitable).

Offer your arm to support and guide those with poor vision when walking. G

ive clear concise directions when in unfamiliar surroundings, using a clock face as reference. E.g. “Toilet is straight up the hallway at 3 o’clock.”

As we reach into our 60s and beyond, you need to be aware of the warning signs of age-related eye health problems that could cause vision loss. I am speaking to more than once you turn 40 and begin to realize you can benefit from a pair of readers, soon to find you have a pair in various locations around your home.   Many eye diseases have no early symptoms. In addition, eye disease may develop painlessly and you may not notice the changes to your vision until the condition is quite advanced.  Regular eye exams to get you to early detection of disease, can significantly improve your chances of maintaining good eye health and vision as you age.  

Many do not realize that health problems affecting other parts of your body can affect your vision as well. It is quite common for those with diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure), or who are taking medications that have eye-related side effects, are at greatest risk for developing vision problems.  Be sure to inquire with your pharmacist about side effects of any new medication you are taking. The American Optometric Association recommends annual eye examinations for everyone over age 60. See your doctor of optometry immediately if you notice any changes in your vision whether you wear glasses currently or not.  

The following are some vision disorders to be aware of:

Dry eye is a condition in which a person produces too few or poor-quality tears. Tears maintain the health of the front surface of the eye and provide clear vision. Dry eye is a common and often chronic problem, particularly in older adults.

Cataracts are cloudy or opaque areas in the normally clear lens of the eye. Depending upon their size and location, they can interfere with normal vision. Usually cataracts develop in both eyes, but one may be worse than the other. Cataracts can cause blurry vision, decreased contrast sensitivity, dulling of colors and increased sensitivity to glare.  

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases characterized by damage to the optic nerve resulting in vision loss. People with a family history of glaucoma, African Americans and older adults have a higher risk of developing the disease. Glaucoma is often painless and can have no symptoms. Over time, it can take away peripheral (side) vision.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that affects the macula (the center of the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye) and causes central vision loss. Although small, the macula is the part of the retina that allows us to see fine detail and colors. Activities like reading, driving, watching TV and recognizing faces all require good central vision provided by the macula. While macular degeneration decreases central vision, peripheral or side vision remains unaffected.  

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that occurs in people with diabetes. It is the result of progressive damage to the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina. These damaged blood vessels leak blood and other fluids that cause retinal tissue to swell and cloud vision. The condition usually affects both eyes. The longer a person has diabetes, the greater the risk for developing diabetic retinopathy. In addition, the instability of a person’s glucose measurements over time can impact the development and/or severity of the condition. At its most severe, diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness.

Retinal detachment is a tearing or separation of the retina from the underlying tissue. Retinal detachment most often occurs spontaneously due to changes to the gel-like vitreous fluid that fills the back of the eye. Other causes include trauma to the eye or head, health problems like advanced diabetes, and inflammatory eye disorders. If not treated promptly, it can cause permanent vision loss.

Driving safely after 65+

Age-related vision changes and eye diseases can negatively affect your driving abilities, even before you are aware of symptoms.

Some age-related vision changes that commonly affect seniors’ driving are:

Problems seeing in low light or at night

Difficulty adapting to bright sunlight or glare from headlights

Not being able to see road signs as clearly

Difficulty seeing objects up close, like the car instrument panel or road maps

Difficulty judging distances and speed

Experiencing a loss of side vision (more common the more we age)

These tips can help you stay safe when driving, especially at night:

Have an annual eye examination. Yearly eye exams can ensure your eyeglass or contact lens prescription is up to date. It can also ensure early detection and treatment of any developing eye health problem.

Reduce your speed and limit yourself to daytime driving. If you are having trouble seeing at night or your eyes have difficulty recovering from the glare of oncoming headlights, slow down and avoid driving at night.  

Use extra caution at intersections. Many collisions involving older drivers occur at intersections due to a failure to yield, especially when taking a left turn. Look carefully in both directions before proceeding into an intersection. Turn your head frequently when driving to compensate for any decreased peripheral vision.

Avoid wearing eyeglasses and sunglasses with wide frames or temples. Glasses with wide temples (side arms) may restrict your side vision.

Take a driving course for seniors. Participate in a program for older drivers in your community, such as those offered by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). This can help you learn how to compensate for the physical changes that may affect your driving ability.

It’s a sad fact of life that as we age our sight and our hearing deteriorates.

A major impairment to either of these senses can pose problems, however when they happen simultaneously – as is the case with one in ten older people – your loved ones can often feel totally isolated from their family, friends and the community.

Experiencing problems with their sight and their hearing can do more than hinder communication, reduce their quality of life and make everyday tasks difficult, it can also be a safety issue.

Obviously the first thing to do is for your parent or grandparent to visit a specialist if they haven’t already done so, to see if there is a medical procedure or device that may restore or improve their vision or hearing capacity.  My grandparents on my maternal side both lost their hearing as young children due to illness, however their quality of life was never impeded. They both lead successful active lives, were highly educated and yes even enjoyed music.  Lawrence Welk was always on the TV weekly and you didn’t dare turn it off.  It is amazing how the human body can adapt to loss of senses. My grandparents like many others with hearing loss, feel the vibrations of the music and enjoy it in a different manner than those of us who have our hearing. We all in our family learned to sign ASL.  Both my grandparents could read lips across the room, (no secrets in our family!) and used TTYs in lieu of telephones to communicate with us just as easily as picking up a phone to call. Failing that, it’s a case of making the most of the situation.

Over the years Home Instead’s CAREGivers have met many seniors whose eyesight and hearing isn’t what it used to be.

Based on our experience in providing senior home care services, we have worked out the best ways to ensure they overcome these setbacks and retain their dignity and independence…and there is a lot you can do to reduce the impact of their impairments on their everyday life.

Wishing you all Thanksgiving Blessings!

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern?  She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.