How to Help Someone Who
Is Visually Impaired
With our aging population, visual impairment is becoming more common. If someone you know is experiencing vision loss, here's how you can help.
Good vision is a precious gift and one that is easy to take for granted. Imagine for a minute what life would be like if your vision was permanently impaired and could not be corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses or vision surgery.
This is the situation many people find themselves in every day, suffering from what is called "low vision." Other terms used to describe people with low vision are "partially sighted," "visually impaired" and "legally blind."
Causes of low vision include hereditary conditions, eye injuries and eye diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration. Whatever the origin, low vision often causes depression and feelings of isolation and helplessness.
There are many ways to help someone with vision loss. You can take them shopping, do home repairs, or just hang out and be a friend.
How You Can Help
If you have a friend or family member with low vision or know others in your community who are partially sighted, here are a few ways you can help them maintain their independence and get the most out of their remaining eyesight:
Help them learn about low vision aids. Special optical devices called low vision aids often can enable people to use their remaining vision more effectively and do things they thought were no longer possible.
These devices include customized magnifiers for reading and other near tasks, computerized text-to-speech devices and handheld or spectacle-mounted telescopes for seeing objects in the distance. Many are covered by health insurance.
You can help by arranging a visit to their eye care practitioner to learn which optical aids will provide the most benefit. (If the practitioner doesn't usually work in low vision, he or she may recommend a low vision specialist in the area.)
A low vision exam is different from a regular eye exam and typically involves follow-up visits to help the person with low vision use the prescribed vision aids effectively.
The practitioner also might suggest non-optical aids to help someone with low vision enjoy life more fully. Examples include audio books, large-print books and other large-print items, such as playing cards, clocks, phones and pillboxes.
Give them a hand and light up their life. A few easy adjustments to the living areas of a person with low vision can improve visibility and reduce the risk of a fall:
- Make sure their home is well lit, with high-wattage light bulbs and additional lamps or task lighting. The kitchen, bathroom and work areas all should be fully and evenly illuminated.
- Remove unnecessary household clutter. Offer to help with organizing important items and packing up others.
- Create a list of important phone numbers in large print on bold-lined paper. Include doctors, transportation and emergency contacts, and put the list in a convenient place.
- Mark stairs or slopes with brightly colored tape. Eye-catching colors that contrast with the flooring work best.
- Suggest purchasing a large-screen television that produces high-contrast images.
Be a shopping buddy. Getting out of the house can help lift the spirits of a person with low vision. If their vision is not good enough to drive, offer to take them grocery shopping once a week.
Make a shopping list ahead of time, and help them locate items on the store shelves. Encourage them to do as much of the shopping task as they can on their own, but be close by to help when needed.
Travel tips. Help the person with low vision learn about all transportation services that are available, including those provided by local churches and community groups. Encourage them to ask questions and speak up if they are traveling alone and need assistance.
When walking with someone with impaired vision, try to walk a few steps ahead, at a pace that is slower than usual. This way, the individual can anticipate the terrain based on your cues. Alert them to steps, curbs and other potential problems you are approaching that might be difficult to see.
Learn as much as you can about the particular vision issues they have. For example, people with advanced glaucoma usually have difficulty with side vision. Knowing this will help you to anticipate mobility problems when the two of you are out and about.
[Page updated September 2013]
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