Aging Often Means Decline in Vision and Need to
Learn to Live a Little Differently
Cases of diabetic
retinopathy among people aged 65 or older will quadruple to 9.9 million
- State Independent Living Council Stresses You Are Not Alone
22, 2013 - For most people, age brings a decline in vision. Some of the
most frequently diagnosed age-related diseases trigger the loss of
vision or blindness, including cataracts, age-related macular
degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
reported in The State of Vision, Aging and Public Health in America
that cases of early age-related macular degeneration are expected to
double by 2015 to 17.8 million for those ages 50 years and older. Cases
of diabetic retinopathy among people aged 65 or older will quadruple to
While navigating the environment as one ages can be
challenging, navigating it while losing one's sight can be exponentially
difficult. According to the National Center on Caregiving, nearly 3.5
million Americans over 40 years of age experience some vision loss, most
commonly from age-related conditions. This number is expected to double
in the next few decades with the aging of baby boomers.
One company offers radar beam for in-home monitoring of vital signs,
activities of daily living and falls; another collects data from motion,
temperature, door, chair, bed, pill box sensors, caller ID information
to catch telephone scams
"Losing one's vision can create a real sense of
isolation, but it doesn't have to," said State Independent Living
Council (SILC) Executive Director Liz Pazdral. "Independent Living
Centers (ILCs) throughout California offer programs and services that
assist and train individuals on how to effectively navigate their
environments, which leads to maintaining their independence and
Paul Van Doren, Executive Director of the Community
Access Center in Riverside, has first-hand experience in working with
individuals who have lost their vision through aging. The Center offers
a Senior Low Vision Program funded by an OIB (Older Individuals who are
Blind) grant, which provides skills training, peer support or adjustment
counseling and assistive technology or adaptive and rehabilitative
devices for people living with disabilities, such as vision loss.
"As seniors start losing their vision, they have to
learn to do things differently," explained Van Doren. "We meet with
them, establish their goals, offer training and show them available
equipment. For example, they have to mark commonplace items such as
their clothes, thermostat, washing machine and cooking appliances. Or
they can no longer drive and want to start using the bus.
"This is where we come in. We show them how to
effectively identify typical items in the home and how to use the bus
system, which may include riding with them until they are comfortable."
Van Doren summed it up by stating, "People get
stuck when losing their vision and feel isolated because they can't
drive any longer or read the newspaper, something they did every day of
their life. We help them develop the skills to get "unstuck" and live
an independent life again."
In addition to the training services, many of which
are provided in the home, the Center offers peer support counseling
where an individual living with a disability helps another such
individual. Van Doren, who went blind at the age of 30, believes in the
value and understands the impact of this service.
"Our philosophy is that someone living with a
disability can relate better to another person who has gone through
similar challenges and knows the experience first-hand," said Van Doren
. "For example, the individual providing peer support to someone with
vision loss may suggest the use of a talking watch or computer or
audible labeler because he or she has used these devices and can
emphasize their value. This gets individuals thinking more positively
about their circumstances."
The Center has three offices and three vehicles to
serve a large county. Through the OIB grant, the Center has been able to
serve, on average, 100 individuals yearly while providing information
and referral services to hundreds of other individuals.
Debbie Hansen, braille instructor for the
Disability Resource Agency for Independent Living (DRAIL), also serves
people within a six-county spread who have or are losing their vision.
In fact, she believes it is her calling since becoming visually impaired
as an elementary student. Teaching individuals to read, write and print
braille through a block grant from a local sorority, Omega GNU, Hansen
introduces individuals to numerous resources, teaches them how to access
available resources and shares experiences with them.
"People come into the classes disoriented and
wondering what is going to happen to them, where will they go and what
will they do with their lives," commented Hansen. "I reassure them that
they can do everything they are doing now, but do it with their eyes
closed. They soon learn they can keep track of finances and other
personal data as well as correspond with the federal, state, city and
county agencies that recognize braille."
Hansen is quick to point out that DRAIL is not just
about braille and computers, even though they offer computer classes for
the visually impaired who can no longer read large screens or rely on
screen reading programs such as JAWS or Window Eyes. "It's about
accessing resources to continue doing what they are doing and to let
them know that there are people still working who have lost their
vision," reinforced Hansen. "This gives individuals hope and confidence
to continue doing what they are doing."
DRAIL also offers peer-to-peer counseling. "Talking
to someone who has gone through the same things is comforting," said
Hansen. "This, combined with braille and the multitude of available
resources, opens up the world for people living with disabilities."
Hansen described a case in point where an
individual came to her in tears and didn't have much hope. Although she
was working, she was concerned she was going to lose her job or that her
employer would give her significantly diminished responsibilities
causing her income to either disappear or be significantly reduced.
According to Hansen, "She enrolled in my class and
while learning braille, she discovered, 'I can do this, and I can use
braille for a particular part of my job.' She was motivated to learn,
and over the course of about seven months, I witnessed her transition
from feeling hopeless to going to work with a strong sense of
Socorro Arroyo-Merchain, Program Manager for the
Dayle McIntosh Center's (DMC) Aging with Vision Loss Program (AVL), is
proud of their program that offers training and services to adults 55
years of age and older who are experiencing vision loss. Through OIB
funds, DMC supports the full participation of individuals facing vision
loss by offering home-based independent living skills training.
With the increase in diabetes and diabetic
retinopathy, AVL offers a particular specialty of adaptive diabetic
"In addition to assisting individuals with vision
loss," said Arroyo-Merchain, "we also offer training to individuals on
how to manage diabetes with the use of an accessible, talking glucometer,
which they can't see. We introduce seniors to talking glucometers,
insulin pens, disposable lancets and other assistive technology devices
that will enhance their independence and prevent secondary and tertiary
With California's network of ILCs offering a
variety of services and programs to individuals experiencing vision
loss, they can be comforted knowing there are resources and options that
contribute to leading an independent life.