By Stephen Smoot
One of the typical challenges of growing older for many lies in partial or full loss of their eyesight. Fortunately, qualified West Virginians 55 years or older and suffering from either condition could get help from the VISIONS program provided by the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitative Services.
According to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Network web page, “approximately one percent of adults aged 50-54 years in the US have visual acuity impairment or are blind, but this estimate increases to more than 20% of those 85 years and older.”
“Visual acuity” refers to clearness of vision. Technically, those with numbers worse than 20/20 have impaired vision. This is the traditional and objective measure of a person’s ability to see.
The American Foundation for the Blind adds a definition of “low vision,” an intentionally subjective term indicating a vision impairment that interferes with daily activities and routines.” This threshold would change from person to person and “cannot be corrected with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery.”
Many seniors find themselves in this condition, shaping their lifestyles around the limits of their vision.
According to Amanda Udell with the VISIONS program, it is “an independent living program for seniors with vision loss.” She shared that the criteria include “you do not work. You have a personal impairment that affects daily living activities, such as reading the mail, using the phone, shopping, socializing, and more.”
According to a study published online in the National Library of Medicine, “vision loss can affect one’s quality of life (QOL), independence, and mobility, and has been linked to falls, injury,” and lowered well-being in mental health, cognitive and social function, and more.
When impaired eyesight becomes a fact of life, VISIONS helps seniors to adapt. “VISIONS can help with instruction in alternative ways to perform tasks affected by vision loss,” Udell explained. She added that the program can “teach alternative home organization techniques, help you safely manage your medications, refer you for other services, such as talking book services.”
VISIONS can also “provide gadgets like magnifiers that can make reading and daily activities easier for people.”
Other means of help include connecting seniors with community activities, providing low technology adaptive aids, and connection with a network of peers also experiencing vision challenges.
Udell described how the VISIONS program works with eye care professionals and senior centers, as well as relevant community service organizations. She said, “We will also come speak at independent/assisted living facilities, community health fairs, and even church groups.”
VISIONS also allows for the mobility challenges that many seniors face. Udell states that “leaving your home or community is not necessary to receive VISIONS services. Trained professionals can meet you in your home, at a community senior center, or at a church or other convenient place of your choosing.”
A 2021 American Association of Retired Persons survey indicated that, even during the pandemic, almost four of five senior Americans preferred to stay in their home as they age. Additionally, those seniors who remain independent often see better physical and mental health care outcomes.
Udall explains that “we recognize that sometimes as we get older, it can be a bit more difficult to do things on our own, but it can also be difficult for some to ask for help as well.”
She then provided examples, saying that “it is the simple things that sometimes sighted people take for granted, such as being able to sign your name to a piece of paper, make a grocery list, and even write out a check to pay a bill. For someone who is experiencing vision loss, those tasks may be difficult, or even impossible.”