Low vision, or “legally blind” as it’s called in the US, refers to a condition where a person has vision loss that cannot be corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses. Those with low vision are still able to drive, read big print, even text messages, but they often have difficulty with the finer details.
If a family member or friend has low vision, it can be hard to know how best to help them. First of all, you might not even realize they’re having difficulty. You might think they’re just not trying hard enough to do what you’re asking them to do. Because of this, it’s critical to approach them with an open mind and empathy for their situation. Here are some helpful tips for assisting them with low vision.
The difference between low vision and other eye conditions
Low vision is generally considered as one end of the spectrum of visual impairment. It affects about 3 percent of the population, and those who experience it tend to be older than those who don’t. People with low vision usually need assistance from someone else to complete many everyday tasks.
In addition to low vision, there are three more common causes: macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma. While there is no cure for these types of problems, treatments such as surgery ormedication may help improve your vision.
The first step is realizing that there’s a problem
There are many reasons someone could have low vision such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, dry eye syndrome, age-related macular degeneration, and retinal detachment.
All of these conditions affect the back surface of the retina, the part responsible for processing light that enters through the eye into brain cells. A common symptom of these conditions is blurred or distorted vision. If you notice changes in your loved one’s vision over time, it is possible that he/she may have a treatable condition.
Telling them about their vision
If you suspect that someone you know has low vision, the first thing to do is ask them if they’re having difficulty seeing. It can be hard to ask someone how they’re seeing; you might be afraid of hurting their feelings or denying them the opportunity for denial. However, it’s crucial you know how they’re seeing.
Get them to a low vision specialist as soon as possible
A doctor who specializes in helping people with low vision is the best way to get accurate information regarding vision impairment. If you want to find out why your friend or relative isn’t doing well on eye exams, tell them you noticed something was off when you last saw them. Then ask them if they’ve been getting regular check-ups. If not, arrange for an appointment right away. Even though low vision specialists don’t treat diseases or injuries, they use specialized tests to diagnose a variety of visual disorders.
Low vision is diagnosed by determining whether vision loss comes from a physical cause or a mental/behavioral issue. A doctor will also determine if any medical treatment would benefit your vision. If a physical cause exists, then the doctor will identify the specific disease. For example, if you’ve lost peripheral vision due to age-related changes, a retina specialist will likely diagnose you with central retinal vein occlusion.
Depending on the cause of the vision loss, there are several different treatment options available. Many people with low vision wear special glasses designed to make up for their lack of sharpness. Others use magnification tools like magnifying readers, computer screens with higher resolutions, and large print books instead of printed newspapers. Still, others depend on assistive technology such as voice recognition systems. There are many ways to overcome low vision, so talk to your doctor to find out which option works best for you.
Give Them Space
The first thing you should do is let them define their own obstacles. Maybe they can’t read the menu. Maybe they can’t see the remote control. Maybe they just can’t seem to find their favorite shirt. It’s important to be guided by them when it comes to the specifics of what they can’t do. This will help give them confidence in your ability to help.
Keep objects of interest at an appropriate distance. If you’re watching television or looking at a photo, keep it at a comfortable distance for your family member or friend. Many times their low vision will be a bit different from yours.
If you’re watching television or looking at a photo, keep it at a comfortable distance for your family member or friend. Many times their low vision will be a bit different from yours. Use a high-contrast background.
Try these tips to help them with low vision
If you’re planning on visiting a location with your loved one with low vision, bring along some extra assistance. Take your friend out for lunch at a restaurant that uses clear menus and signs. Make sure lighting is good; if you walk inside a dark restaurant or museum, it won’t matter if you try to hold a sign next to them for them to read!
Take time to explore together; learn about new sights and sounds. Your friend may be able to enjoy music more easily if you turn down the volume slightly or take them to a place without too much noise.
Take advantage of the internet – online sightseeing sites like Google Street View offer images taken from the exact spots you point to your camera! Some programs allow you to zoom in and move around using your mouse, while other websites provide links to videos of places you visit.
In addition to the many free guides, apps, and services available online, your local library is another great source of information. They usually stock brochures, maps, and audio tours that can give you access to historical landmarks you otherwise wouldn’t have known existed.
Make sure your friend is always aware of changes in weather conditions that could impact their environment. A sunny day could mean glare on the pavement that makes it difficult to see, while rain means wet floors and slippery surfaces. Bring umbrellas, jackets, and/or coats and plan accordingly.
• Ask friends and relatives to call you before coming over, especially if something happens when they arrive.
• Consider taking them out to dinner occasionally. Eating out can sometimes be daunting for those who have low vision.
• If possible, avoid scheduling appointments during peak hours, since this can make finding parking more challenging. In general, avoid doing anything strenuous during this time or right near bedtime since fatigue may affect fine motor skills and cause confusion.
• Keep a list of items you need to remind your friend of so you don’t forget anything. Have a checklist ready that includes things such as medications, glasses, hearing aids, etc.
• If your friend is driving, ask them to follow strict guidelines in order to reduce accidents. These include keeping a safe following distance, stopping frequently and allowing plenty of time between turns, and making sure there is plenty of room to change lanes safely.
• If your family member is experiencing trouble navigating unfamiliar areas, consider getting them a GPS or smartphone navigation device. While a traditional map would work well, smartphones offer additional features to assist people with low vision.
• If you’re worried someone else will come up behind them and accidentally bump into them, consider holding their hand until they feel secure letting go. If you notice any sudden movement, gently grab their shoulder or arm to make sure they’ve settled down again,