Dear Savvy Senior: What resources can you recommend to help seniors with vision loss? My husband, who’s 76, has macular degeneration. It has progressed to the point that he can’t do a lot of his routine activities anymore, and he has become very discouraged. — Looking for Help
Dear Looking: Unfortunately, there are around 15 million Americans, like your husband, living with macular degeneration. Over time, this progressive disease can rob people of their central vision, making everyday tasks like driving a car, reading the newspaper or watching television extremely challenging.
Here are some resources that can help.
Low vision help
The best place to get help living and coping with macular degeneration is at a vision rehabilitation agency or clinic.
Typically run by state or nonprofit organizations, or private eye-care clinics, there are more than 1,500 of these services nationwide that help people who are living with many uncorrectable vision impairments.
Most state and nonprofit vision rehabilitation services are free or low-cost, while private clinics typically charge a fee or may accept Medicare.
While vision rehabilitation does not restore lost sight, it does help people maximize their existing sight, or, if they have no vision, it can equip them with techniques and tools to help them maintain an independent lifestyle.
Services include counseling, training on how to perform daily living tasks with low vision and how to use visual and adaptive devices and assistive technologies to help improve quality of life.
They also offer guidance for adapting your home to make it safer and easier for your husband to maneuver, and can help him locate low-vision support groups. Some agencies will even send their specialist out to work with him at home.
To find a vision rehabilitation service in your area, call the American Foundation for the Blind referral line at 800-232-5463 or visit VisionAware.org/directory. Or, if you use a smartphone or tablet, download their VisionConnect app (see AFB.org/VisionConnect), which connects you to low-vision resources in your area.
If, however, you don’t live near a vision rehabilitation service, you can get help from an occupational therapist, who can provide low vision training in your home. Medicare, if prescribed by your eye doctor or health care provider, covers this.
Another place to find help for your husband is online at VisionAware.org.
This free website, created by the American Foundation for the Blind and the Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation, is designed to help older adults who are losing their sight.
It provides information on eye conditions, along with dozens of practical tips and instructional videos on living with vision loss, including concepts for adapting your home to make it easier to navigate, techniques for traveling safely outside the home, and tips on how to manage finances, medications, and tasks like cooking, cleaning, grooming, reading, writing and more.
It also offers a comprehensive list of products and technology that can help your husband stay active and independent. It publishes product reviews in their online magazine, AccessWorld, found at AFB.org/aw.
Some other resources that can help include:
>> The Hadley Institute (Hadley.edu, 800-323-4238), which offers dozens of free online instructional videos to help the blind or visually impaired live independently.
>> Ears for Eyes (EarsForEyes.info, 800-843-6816) that provides free audio lessons that teach low-vision adaptive daily-living skills.
>> Living Well with Low Vision (LowVision.PreventBlindness.org, 800-331-2020), which offers up-to-date information and free materials for people living with severe vision impairment.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.