June 12th, 2013 at 10:00 am
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Small changes to help elders with vision challenges

by Dorian Martin

It’s amazing how one little change can make a huge difference when you’re caring for an elder.

Let me give you an example. We often eat dinner using trays in the family room while watching a movie or a TV show. However, Dad increasingly has had difficulty eating, instead dropping food on the floor (which our dogs absolutely love). Part of Dad’s issue is a tremor that periodically makes his hands shake. However, I also think that part of his challenge can be chalked up to aging eyesight.

Not seeing clearly

The American Optometric Association (AOA) points out that many adults start to experience difficulty seeing clearly as they reach their early- to mid-40s and vision continues to deteriorate as we age. So what changes happen to elders’ eyesight? Here are some examples:

  • Needing more light: Elders do not see as well in the same quality of light as they were able to when younger. Therefore, they really need brighter lights in the areas where they spend the most time.
  • Difficulty seeing close up: Elders may experience difficulty reading and doing close work because their eye lenses have lost much of their flexibility.
  • Issues with glare: Elders may have issues with glare, such as approaching headlights at night or the sun reflecting off of automobile windshields or pavement during the day. “Changes within the lens in your eye cause light entering the eye to be scattered rather than focused precisely on the retina, thus creating more glare,” the AOA stated.
  • Difficulty discerning colors: Elders may experience changes in their ability to perceive color. This situation is caused by discoloration of the normally clear eye lens. This discoloration makes it difficult to distinguished certain shades of color.
  • Drier eyes: Elders’ eyes may produce fewer tears, thus leading to dryness and irritation. Sufficient tears are vital for eye health and good sight, the AOA stressed.

Opting for a brighter contrast

So with that background, what change made a big difference for Dad? Using a different color of dinnerware. Let me explain. My previous set of dinnerware is an eclectic mix of colors — royal blue, cranberry red, hunter green, deep purple and harvest gold — that matches my home’s decor. However, the plates had started getting chipped so I decided to purchase a new set.

When I went shopping, I decided on plain white plates since those seem to be the “go-to” choice shown in most cookbooks and cooking shows. And it turns out that Dad’s difficulty with eating has dropped dramatically since I’ve started using these plates regularly. The white plates enable Dad to more clearly see the food, thus making it much easier for him to firmly establish a bite full of food on his fork. That’s changed the score so now it’s Dad 1, Dogs 0!

Caregivers who are concerned about elders’ eye health may also be interested in my blog post on the risks of glaucoma.

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