Does your senior loved one strain when watching TV or reading a book? Do they put off important tasks because it’s difficult for them to see what they’re doing? Are they having trouble spotting details, or getting small things around the house mixed up?
If so, your senior loved one may be experiencing vision problems, or even major vision loss.
Vision Loss in the Elderly: What Caregivers Need to Know
According to statistics reported by American Family Physicians, “loss of vision among the elderly is a major health care problem,” and “approximately one in three elderly persons has some form of vision-reducing eye disease by the age of 65.”
As we age, some changes to our vision are natural – but major changes can affect a senior’s day-to-day quality of life. Problems with vision can impact a senior’s ability to perform their routine activities of daily living, and can also contribute to feelings of depression or anxiety.
As U.S. News & World Report points out, many healthcare professionals agree that the eyes can also be a window into an older adult’s overall health. For instance, vision problems can be early warning signs of other underlying health conditions, including diabetes, brain tumors, and other serious complications.
Among seniors, there are a few major causes of vision loss and difficult seeing. As the National Eye Institute (NEI) explains, these common age-related vision problems may include:
- Macular degeneration. An age-related condition in which part of the retina loses function, impacting a senior’s ability to maintain sharp, central vision.
- Cataracts. A clouding of the eye’s lens, which can make things look blurry, reduce the ability to see color, and exacerbate problems with glare.
- Glaucoma. Glaucoma can refer to a number of different conditions, all of which damage the optic nerve, resulting in vision reduction and, in some cases, blindness.
- Dry eye. Somewhat less serious, dry eye occurs when the eyes do not produce enough tears, which can make it more difficult to focus.
- Low vision. As the NEI explains, low vision is a reduction in eye function that can make “reading the mail, shopping, cooking, seeing the TV, and writing” more challenging.
- Diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes can take a serious toll on an individual’s sight. In this condition, diabetes complications result in the damage of blood vessels to the retina.
What Can Family Caregivers Do to Help Seniors Manage Vision Loss?
As a loving and supportive family member of an elderly adult, it can be concerning to see your loved one struggle with changes to their vision. Here are five key ways you can help your senior loved one stay healthy, remain independent, and maintain their quality of life while managing vision loss:
1.) Know the warning signs to look out for
As with other aspects of their health, your loved ones may not be forthcoming about vision problems. They may not want to complain because they see vision changes as a natural part of aging, or they might be worried about losing independence due to vision loss. As a family caregiver, this means that it may be up to you to be vigilant and watch for signs of vision loss or changes, so you can help your loved one take action before it’s too late.
As Aging Care explains, family caregivers may want to be on the lookout for some common “yellow flags,” including:
- Seniors squinting or tilting their head in order to focus
- Regularly bumping into things or knocking things over
- Missing items when reaching for them, leading to spills or dropped objects
- Slip and fall incidents
- Mixing up household items, foods, or boxes
- Hesitancy when walking or moving
- Avoiding common tasks, like reading or writing, answering mail, cooking
- Trouble with driving
2.) Encourage seniors to get regular eye exams and seek treatment
It’s important for family members to encourage their older loved ones to get help. According to U.S. News, experts recommend that adults get a complete eye examination at age 40, in order to be proactive about assessing vision changes. From age 65 on, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends having your eyes checked yearly, even if you’re not presenting symptoms. For seniors who are facing symptoms, it may be more important to see an eye doctor more regularly.
As one doctor put if for U.S. News:
“…we have lots of effective treatments for all these conditions. No patient should feel like they would go blind from any of these conditions. All of them are treatable, and with the proper evaluation and diagnosis and management they can all save sight in these patients over time.”
3.) Help seniors eat a healthy diet
The old adage is that “you are what you eat.” But what about “you see what you eat?” For older adults, diet can be a major factor in maintaining and strengthening vision.
As WebMD explains, “nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc, and vitamins C and E might help ward off age-related vision problems like macular degeneration and cataracts.”
Generally speaking, eating a healthy and balanced diet can help seniors maintain their eye health, as can cutting out unhealthy habits, such as smoking. Looking for a few foods to focus on? All About Vision recommends a diet rich in leafy greens, fish, eggs, nuts, citrus fruits, and carotenoid-rich vegetables, including carrots and bell peppers.
4.) Make their home environment safer
Seniors with vision problems may be more prone to accidents around the house, and may face difficulties with activities of daily living, or ADLs. One way to help is to update their home, to account for changes to their vision. To get started, focus on a few key tasks, including:
- Improving lighting. Make sure the home is well-lit. Add bright overhead lights, use window screens to cut down on glare, and provide direct reading/working lights in certain areas. You can also add nightlights throughout the home, for easier navigation after dark.
- Making the environment safer. Remove tripping and stumbling hazards (like electrical cords, loose rugs), and make sure that the home has clear, accessible routes throughout.
- Adding a clear and visible organization system. Add clear labels around the home, perhaps using a color-coded system that is easy to see, or by setting up a tactile system using cotton balls, rubber bands, or other “touchable” markers. This way, your loved one doesn’t have to guess about where their most important things are, including their cooking equipment, house keys, wallet, and other personal items.
5.) Make everyday items easier to see and use
Making a few small swaps can help make everyday tasks significantly easier for adults with changing vision. Depending on the senior’s needs, see about setting them up with large print books, magazines, playing cards, and so on. You could also use audio-equipped devices, including sensors, smart assistants, and even medicine dispensers, to help make key everyday tasks easier to navigate. Finally, you may want to look into helping magnify things for your senior, using handheld magnifying glasses, or other more sophisticated adaptive technology. For instance, you may be able to help your senior digitally magnify or scan magazines or notes so they can be viewed on a larger surface, such as a TV or computer screen.
How Companions for Seniors Can Help
If your senior loved one is facing vision changes and needs an extra hand around the house, an in-home companion can help. Home care provided by an experienced senior companion can give your loved one the personalized attention they need, empowering your senior to live more independently.
At the same time, this companion can help provide day-to-day support for your aging loved one, from helping them remember their meds, to offering driving services for mental or physical health appointments, to assisting with activities of daily living, like grooming, dressing, and doing light housework.
If you have a loved one that you believe could benefit from the assistance of a professional caregiver, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the experts at Companions for Seniors.
We’re locally owned in the Chicago area, with clients in the city and suburbs, and we’re here to answer any questions you may have about any aspect of caring for your aging loved one.
Our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can help you and your family shoulder some of the responsibility of caring for the senior in your life. We help provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind for a family caregiver who might need some support.
We offer personalized care plans for each of our clients, all available on a flexible schedule that works for your unique needs.
Have any questions? Want to get in touch? Don’t hesitate to give us a call at 866-910-9020, or fill out our contact form, available here.