Resources to Help Seniors Living With Low Vision

Optometrist performing eye test with phoropter on a male patient
Optometrist performing eye test with phoropter on a male patient

Dear Savvy Senior: What resources can you recommend to help seniors with incurable vision impairment? My wife has macular degeneration and has become very discouraged.

--Looking for Help

Dear Looking: Unfortunately, there are more than 2 million Americans, like your wife, living with macular degeneration today, making everyday tasks like cooking dinner, reading the newspaper or watching television extremely challenging. Here are some resources that can help.

Vision Rehabilitation
The best place to get help living and coping with macular degeneration is at a vision rehabilitation agency. Typically run by state or nonprofit organizations, there are around 1,500 of these agencies scattered across the country that provide free or low-cost services to help seniors and their families who are living with all types of incurable vision impairments.

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, along with training on how to perform daily living tasks with low vision, and how to use visual and adaptive devices and assistive technologies that can help improve quality of life.

Vision rehabilitation agencies offer guidance for adapting your home, which will make it safer and easier for your wife to maneuver around the house. They can also help her locate low-vision support groups in your area, which is very helpful. Some agencies will even send their specialist out to work with her in the comfort of your own home.

To find a vision rehabilitation agency in your area, call the American Foundation for the Blind referral line at 1-800-232-5463.

If, however, you don't live near a vision rehabilitation agency, you can also get help from an occupational therapist, or OT, who can provide low-vision training in your home. Ask your ophthalmologist or doctor for a referral to an OT in your area. Your Area Agency on Aging (call 1-800-677-1116 for their Eldercare Locator) can also help you find nearby therapists. Many health insurance providers, including Medicare, will pay for low-vision training by an OT if prescribed by your eye doctor or healthcare provider.

Online Help
Another convenient place to find help for your wife is online at a terrific new website called VisionAware. Created by the American Foundation for the Blind and the Reader's Digest Partners for Sight Foundation, this site provides free 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 various tips on how to manage things like finances and medications, as well as other tasks such as cooking, cleaning, grooming, reading, writing and more.

It also offers a comprehensive list of low-vision products and technologies that can help your wife stay active and independent, including product reviews that are published in AccessWorld, their online magazine.

Other Resources
Two other good resources that can help you and your wife are the Ears for Eyes' Enrichment Audio Resource Services and MD Support's websites.

Enrichment Audio Resource Services, or E.A.R.S., is a nonprofit public charity that provides free audio lessons on cassette tapes, CDs and Internet downloads. These lessons teach adaptive daily living skills to the vision impaired and their caregivers.

MD Support is a public service website for seniors living with macular degeneration that provides information and links to support groups across the country, and links to low-vision products, services and other resources that can help with many different needs.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.

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