Vision loss can have a profound effect on an elder’s quality of life. In conjunction with Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month (April), Jewish Home, a leader among program providers for low vision elders, offers tips on eye health.
WHAT IS LOW VISION?
Low vision is visual impairment, not correctable by standard glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery, that interferes with a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. The leading causes of low vision are age-related diseases – macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts. Age-related macular degeneration accounts for almost 45 percent of all cases.
Vision loss can have significant impact on seniors.
Dr. Jerry Hecker, a Jewish Home eye specialist says, “It’s very difficult for elders when they lose their vision. Mobility, independence, reading and even watching television – abilities that we usually take for granted — are so important that when they are impacted negatively, it can be a huge loss. That loss can easily trigger depression, which leads to a whole list of physical and mental challenges.”
SOME WARNING SIGNS FOR DETERIORATING EYE HEALTH
• Gradual loss of peripheral vision, usually in both eyes, and in advanced stages, tunnel vision;
• Areas of blurred or distorted vision and/or halos around lights;
• Persistent or acute eye pain;
• Over-sensitivity to light and/or sudden onset of visual disturbance, often in low light;
• Reddening or a burning sensation of the eye;
• Trouble cooking and doing up-close tasks;
• Difficulty recognizing familiar faces;
• Feeling that lights are too dim indoors;
• Eyes become watery, with a persistent discharge or crust.
TIPS FOR OPTIMAL EYE HEALTH
• Over the age of 70? Make your annual eye care appointment.
• For those between 40 and 70 years old, unless there are existing eye and vision issues, eye exams are only necessary every two to four years.
• Don’t share eye medications, glasses or eye drops.
• Use a clean towel and water to wash your face every morning. Use plain water to wipe your eyelid well to prevent infection.
• Do not use public towels or dirty hands to rub your eyes.
• A diet high in Vitamin A and proteins is ideal for optimal eye health. Multivitamins containing vitamins A, D, and C can help, too.
• Smoking isn’t healthy for any part of your body. Quit smoking, and your eyes will thank you.
• Wear protective sunglasses. Damaging UV-A and UV-B rays can’t penetrate your super cool shades.
Especially for Women:
• Decreased tear production, itchiness and dry eyes are a common side effect for women who are post-menopausal. Over-the-counter artificial tears can help, or in severe cases, prescriptions are available.
Tips for Reading
• Read under natural light or steady soft lighting.
• The “eye-deal” distance from eyes to page? 12 inches.
• “Flat” paper (versus glossy) is easier to read, as is print that is clear and large.
• Magnifiers, penlights or even trying out one of the book and newspaper magnifying machines (which many libraries, adult day center and nursing homes offer) may help bring the printed word into focus.
• Whether looking at a computer screen, reading a book or composing a letter, give your eyes a breather. When your eyes feel tired, take a break by closing your eyes or focusing on objects in the distance. Every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds to reduce eyestrain.
HOW IS JEWISH HOME HELPING SENIORS WITH LOW VISION?
Jewish Home offers programs that target seniors with low vision, from those who need moderate help to those who need more support.
THE GUILD INSTITUTE FOR VISION AND AGING
The Guild Institute for Vision and Aging at the Bronx campus of Jewish Home is a newly renovated 38-bed unit specifically designed for residents with low vision. Staff is trained in a vision loss and education and training program called SightCare, unique to The Jewish Guild for the Blind. It offers on-site social work services, a broad range of patient-centered medical, vision, low vision rehab and mental health services and coordination of care with family and community organizations.
This facility is designed to enhance the lives of those living with low vision with characteristics including:
• Enhanced room and hallway lighting with special attention to over-the-bed lighting
• Visibility of doorways and handrails
• No protrusions or obstacles in the hallways
• Flat screen television and music entertainment centers as well as TV reading service
• Five acre campus with award-winning gardens, notably the Klingenstein Healing Garden designed for the five senses
THE ADULT DAY CARE CENTER FOR THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED
Located on the Bronx Campus of Jewish Home, the Adult Care Center for the Visually Impaired caters to the visually impaired who also require persistent medical monitoring. The program offers: round-trip transportation; training in adaptive skills, orientation, mobility and communication; nursing supervision; medical monitoring; and occupational, physical and speech therapies.
KITTAY HOUSE: THE SMART CHOICE FOR SENIORS WITH LOW VISION
Kittay Senior Apartments, New York’s alternative to assisted living, is a friendly choice for the visually impaired. Staff is specially trained in supporting the visually impaired both physically and emotionally. Residents are welcome to partake in a low vision support group. Kittay House has made efforts to include low vision residents in every aspect of its community. For example, the choir director purchased magnifying glasses for singers with low vision. Other amenities include: color contrasting paint in the hallways and doorways, and color coded floors; enhanced contrast lighting in rooms and hallways; safety bars are along the hallway; and talking elevators.