Most of us, as the years go by, experience a
gradual decline in our ability to see. Getting reading glasses or
changing to bifocals is almost a middle-age rite of passage. But your
aging parentís major vision loss may be due to illness, not just
getting older. If Dadís eyesight is failing, itís critical that he
have the problem checked by a physician. If the family has a history
of diabetes, he should have his eyes examined more frequently.
Among the common complaints your parent may
have are problems focusing on close objects (a condition known as
presbyopia), floaters, dry eye, or excessive tears. Other illnesses
and conditions that may affect your parentís vision are cataracts,
glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetes, and a variety of retinal
Even without suffering from an illness or low
vision, your parent may not see as well as he or she did at a younger
age. In older age, itís common for peripheral vision to diminish,
for eyes to take longer to adjust in the dark, and for colors to fade
and depth perception to decline. (These vision impairments make
driving especially hazardous.)
Look for subtle signs. Maybe Mom has stopped
doing her needlepoint or reading for pleasure. Maybe Dad is tripping
over things. Maybe Mom looks more disheveled, because she canít see
the stains on her blouse or the wrinkles in her dress. Maybe Dad has
food in his refrigerator that is past its "use by" date, or
he isnít following the directions printed on his medication.
These are things you can do to help your
parent cope with diminished eyesight:
● Be prepared to comfort and reassure
your parent. Keep in mind that Mom may feel especially vulnerable if
her eyesight is failing. She may isolate herself, and she will
probably be very frightened at the thought of going blind.
● Make sure Dadís house or apartment
is well lit. Put in higher-wattage light bulbs (still within the safe
and recommended range for the lamp or fixture, of course). Have
multiple light sources shining from different directionsóa single
bright light makes dark shadows.
● Light the top and the bottom of any
● Make sure Mom has a night light.
Leave the bathroom light or hall light on. Have a lamp within reach of
the bed so that she can turn on the light before getting up. The
"one touch" style of lamp is great for this.
● Arrange the furniture in a pattern
that makes it easy to get around. Once your parent is familiar with
the furnitureís pattern, donít rearrange it. Later you will have
the challenge of removing clutter respectfully and with permission.
● If Dad is still driving, encourage
him to stop.
● If Momís place is going to be
repainted, use contrasting colors to help her distinguish between
doors and walls.
● Write down important information,
such as emergency phone numbers and addresses, in large, thick print
and post it.
● Get a telephone with an oversize
● Get a good lighted magnifying glass.
● Look into getting large-print books
and magazines and audiobooks.
● The next time you set up an
appointment for your parent for a vision test, stay close by Mom or
Dad. The dark room and testing can be intimidating, especially if your
parent is also experiencing some hearing loss.
● Be ready to provide the everyday
support that can make such a difference. Offer Mom your arm as the two
of you come to a curb. Read Dad the menu if the restaurant is dimly
lit or the print is too small. Help your parent never lose sight of
the fact that the two of you are facing this challenge together.
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