Seniors and Vision Loss

Vision loss is a prevalent occurrence among seniors, which often involves some difficult challenges and adjustments. While complete loss of vision is not a natural or typical aspect of aging, changes in vision and different forms of visual impairment are a common part of the aging process.

Visual impairment or total vision loss can cause significant problems for seniors, and a variety of lifestyle adjustments are often needed to address them. Recognizing and confronting these issues is the first step towards implementing strategies and tools for support assistance as seniors continue to live active and enriching lives despite vision changes.

Signs of Vision Loss

Vision changes often develop slowly and gradually over time. Families, friends, and caregivers can make a note of changes in behaviour that may indicate early signs of vision loss or visual impairment, such as:

  • Walking with caution as though the path is unclear
  • Squinting to see things better
  • Bumping into things
  • When reaching for items, missing them

Changes in eyesight may seem minor initially but can have an extensive impact on daily life. For this reason, learning techniques and strategies to deal with vision loss helps seniors make the necessary adjustments to allow them to hold on to their independence.

Vision loss can be a sign of cataracts in older adults. In recognition of the importance of vision loss, June is Cataract Awareness Month. The Canadian Ophthalmological Society has a list of the causes of vision loss.

Cataracts are a common age-related condition that affects the lens of the eye. The lens becomes cloudy, causing blurry or hazy vision. As cataracts progress, they can lead to a gradual loss of sight.

Some common signs of cataracts include the following:

  1. Objects seem blurry.
  2. Bright lights make vision more difficult.
  3. At night seeing clearly when lights are low is challenging.
  4. Colours may appear less vibrant or have a yellowish tinge.
  5. Seeing two images instead of one.
  6. The need for frequent updates in corrective lenses.

It is essential to consult an eye care professional, such as an ophthalmologist or optometrist, for a comprehensive eye examination to determine the cause of the vision loss and treatment options.

While cataract surgery is the most effective and standard treatment for cataracts, there are some ways to manage and live with cataracts without surgery, at least for a particular time. These strategies can improve vision and alleviate symptoms to some extent. However, it’s important to note that cataracts are progressive, and over time, they can significantly impact eye vision and quality of life. 

To permanently remove cataracts, the only way is through surgery. However, there are some non-surgical approaches that may help:

  1. An updated eyeglass prescription can often improve vision by compensating for the effects of cataracts. Your eye care professional can determine the appropriate prescription based on your needs.
  2. Using magnifying lenses or devices, such as magnifying glasses or handheld magnifiers, can help enhance vision for reading or performing close-up tasks.
  3. Brighter lighting can compensate for the decreased clarity caused by cataracts. 
  4. Wearing sunglasses with UV protection and an anti-glare coating can help reduce glare and improve visual comfort outdoors.
  5. Choosing colours that contrast with each other can enhance visibility and make objects easier to distinguish. For example, using dark-coloured placemats on a light-coloured table or using a black pen on white paper can make reading and writing tasks easier.
  6. Regular check-ups with your eye care professional are important to monitor the progression of cataracts and ensure that any necessary treatment or intervention continues at the appropriate time.

It’s important to remember that these non-surgical strategies are temporary solutions and may not provide long-term improvement in vision. If cataracts significantly interfere with daily activities or quality of life, cataract surgery is the most effective and permanent treatment option.

Modifying the Environment

Seniors living at home with vision loss can make purposeful changes and modifications to their home environment to live with vision loss safer and more manageable.

  • Minimizing clutter and having designated areas to store items after every use can help seniors find what they are looking for when things get more challenging. Keeping remotes, keys, wallets, purses, and other frequently accessed items in the same place all the time will help eliminate difficulty finding them.
  • Using contrasting colours around the house to distinguish similar items from one another can help seniors navigate their environments.
  • Find ways to enlarge the pertinent text sizes or numbers so seniors can navigate appliances and other household items. Find remotes and clocks with larger buttons and more significant numbers. Ensure medication labels have large text and appliances have large buttons.
  • Ensure that all rooms in the house have good lighting and there are night lights for overnight to help seniors guide themselves through the home comfortably and safely.
  • Appropriately arrange furniture, and remove any trip hazards that may lead to falls and injury.
  • Set seniors up with entertainment that is easy to access despite visual impairment. Choose large print or braille books, make TVs and DVD players easy to use with labelled buttons, try audiobooks, set computer screens to large-sized fonts, get large-print playing cards, and make magnifying devices available.

Other Strategies

Other behavioural and lifestyle considerations can help manage vision changes.

  • Seeing the ophthalmologist helps ensure that overall eye health is assessed and attended to.
  • Wear sunglasses when outside to protect your eyes.
  • Nutrients like dark leafy greens, nuts, citrus fruits, and whole grains can help support eye health.

Developing visual impairments or facing total vision loss are challenging circumstances. Still, they do not mean that seniors must lose their independence or can no longer maintain a sense of control over their own lives. Utilizing the available resources and support systems, such as Promyse Home Care In-Home Support or Personal Care services in Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge, can help seniors address their vision loss and make appropriate adjustments for preserving continued independence, happiness, and quality of life.

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