My wonderful 97-year-old mother has macular degeneration, loss of central vision in both eyes, and is considered legally blind.
She is pretty feisty and after my dad passed away 3 years ago, was completely determined to live as independently as possible for as long as possible so I searched out the most upbeat Assisted Living Facility I could find. Once we got her moved in we set up some life changing solutions to help her navigate on her own without needing a caregiver or feeling lost.
Allowing or enabling a person to accomplish livingness for themselves, as much as they can, drives their self-determinism up, boosts their self-confidence and skyrockets their emotions to the highest of heights. And you are rewarded with the presence of a much more powerful person to enjoy life with.
Following are some of the problems we ran into and some simple solutions we put into place for my mom. Just click on the applicable words below so you can see the items and where to find them.
It was hard for her to see key holes or feel them enough to open a door without major frustration. So we installed a Skylink DM-100 Swing Door Opener with Magnetic Lock automatic door opener on her apartment door from Smart Home Inc (it was the most economical),
gave her a battery operated clicker on a spiral bracelet and now with a push of a button she can open the door by herself. There is a coded panel on the outside wall (Skylink KP-434W Wireless Remoted Entry Exit Access Wall Control) that loved ones or a caregiver can access if needed or in case of an emergency. Also on the inside wall we put in this wall mount clicker or you could use this one (so it is bigger to find) so there is always an easy alternate way out should the clicker get lost or if one came in using the coded panel.
I chose this particular brand as it has an electro magnetic locking system so if there is a power outage someone can get in or she can get out with no problem.
Navigating the elevator was a major issue especially being in a new unfamiliar place and not being able to see the elevator buttons. I cut a Velcro button in two and placed one of the halves (rough side out) over one half of button for the lobby and the other half of the Velcro on the button to her floor.
It was unnoticed by others but wonderful for her. She could feel the buttons she needed to push and we kept them in place until she had them memorized. Once she did I just removed them.
Having been an avid reader her whole life this was particularly upsetting not being able to read books anymore. We tried special glasses, lights, large print books and a few devices to no avail but the Braille Institute came to our rescue with their incredibly easy-to-use audio book player and an online portal to the most comprehensive library of books of all genres, magazines and articles you could ask for. Click here for the application.
All we had to do was list her favorite authors, add those books to the online cart and a constant flow of books arrive through the mail. Two times a yr the institute sends out new catalogs. I read her the titles/authors, we order new ones and when she runs low, I can even run to our local libraries and pick up more. This entire service is free of charge for those who are legally blind including the device and the books mail delivery is free both ways. At the end of every year she sends a nice donation as a “Thank-You” and to support this program so it is available to all.
With the type of macular degeneration my mom has she needs a lot of light to see better. Here is a nice article about low vision lighting. I researched a few different types of light and lighting solutions then decided on going with Full Spectrum Solutions. They had an all encompassing collection of everything we needed from replacing light bulbs and tubes to providing desk, torchiere and floor lamps. Making these changes and additions definitely provided a lot more of the right type of light for her. We did have a couple problems with having to return a couple of these for various reasons and had to get them replaced but they were what I felt were the best products out there. They have great customer service and will help you determine what exact products you need.
Telling the Time
She LOVES these and carries one wherever she goes. She also keeps a couple others around her apartment in the different rooms and I stash away a couple in case one dies or gets lost. I replace the batteries as we go and keep recycling through them. Note: The automatic door opening clicker interferes with the timing mechanism of these if they are in the same pocket or purse section so they need to be kept apart (one in the purse and the other in the outside pocket works).
She has a lovely wall clock where on the hour a different bird chirp is sounded. She finds it very helpful in knowing when an hour has passed and since it is very unique she is always showing it off to her friends too.
Many with macular degeneration can still see around objects like my mom, so the trick is to sit close and at a 45-90 degree angle (the degree has changed over time with worsening sight) to the screen. This allows for her eyes to scan the screen with her peripheral sight thus being able to see what is going on. I originally took her to a store and had her look at the different sizes and types of screens. The high definition 32″ screen worked best for her. This Sony one fit the bill and was the one we ended up getting that she could watch. We also strategically placed the tv where there is no glare on the screen.
Trying to see the directions on the tv remote became impossible. Once again I used my handy-dandy velcro buttons cutting off a small pieces and placing them (rough side out) on the “Power” and “Off” buttons which helped but the rest was too hard for her to manage. She uses this when she doesn't have to change channels or the volume to easily just turn it on and off.
For changing channels and volume I set up a Voice Me, a voice activated tv controller. This device will turn the television on and off plus change channels and volume with programmed voice commands. It can also be programmed to control lights, music, etc. and originally was made for the disabled. This YouTube video gives more information on it. Unfortunately I tried finding this on line now and the only way I found one was on Ebay. Keep an eye open for it resurfacing. It is an excellent product.
No problem here. Get a talking scale.
You just stand on it, listen as it announces your weight and it will even thank you afterwards! This item is very helpful to me as well, saving me a trip in each morning. Instead I call in, she reports her weight and I tell her if she needs to take a water pill or not (her short-term memory is not as sharp as it used to be so this solution works for us).
Telling bottles apart
I set up her facial cleanser, toner and moisturizer in sequence of use along her sink top and labeled each with large numbers using a Large Sharpie Chisel Tip Marker, another favorite item of hers.
Keeping the Mind Sharp
This came to mind while mentioning the markers above. She was once a voracious scrabble game player, regularly beating the computer as her foe. Since she can't see the board or tiles anymore, the activities director writes out a phrase in very large print using these markers and my mom will list out literally hundreds of words that can be made out of the letters in that phrase. This is a great mind exercise for the elderly and I am so happy he does this for her.
With the documentation from her doctor of being legally blind, I was able to set her up with a program where a live operator will come on, great her and dial any of 40 preset names/numbers up to 14 people. This can all be set up online. I velcro the “on” and the “O” (for operator) buttons and she can just push those to call anyone she needs. It also has a GPS in it so no matter where she is she can be found easily. It also has a medical alert feature. She takes it wherever she goes. I highly recommend this. We paid for the phone itself and do pay for the cell provider service.
In California we have a fabulous program, the California Telephone Access Program (CTAP) for those with low-sight and low-hearing. Click here to contact them, get an application and/or for more information. Again using the same doctors letter, I was able to get a landline set up with 10 or so names/phone #s programmed with her voice. You must request this Voice Activated Dialer add-on and someone will set it up for you. She just states the name and the phone dials it.
We chose one closest to the JV35 Big Button Telephone which is very simple to use and has both tone and sound controls for the hard of hearing (she has two hearing aids). I taped the controls in place so she can't accidentally change them.
This is an incredible service and she LOVES how helpful it is. The phone is on loan to us from the state and we pay for the phone line provider of our choice.
Vitamins and or Medications Management
How to manage her vitamin and medication bottles was a chore so setting them up in a large compartmented box made it much easier to manage.
We just fill up the compartments with the vitamins or medication and she just has to take one of each a day. I check the box from time to time and refill them as they get low. I don't fill them up to the top. This way they all stay inside their own compartments and don't get mixed up easily.
Though still a bit hard for her to see, she can somewhat make out this large print calendar best. We have tried a few for her and this is her favorite one. My mother in law likes this one the best too.
Paying the hair and nail salon
I write her checks then she clips them with these (easy to pinch even with arthritis) to her calendar one on each side so she knows which is which. This way she can give the right check to the right person.
There you go! A lot to digest but at least everything I can think of is here. Let me know if you have found some other cool ideas to help someone with low vision.
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Posted by Nicole
Blog by Nicole Wheldon. Natural and Organic Solutions Advocate, Enlightener, Author, Writer, Fashion Lover and Health Buff. This blog features tips, ideas, product reviews and finds in natural and organic beauty, health and everything else. You are warmly invited to experience a little of my life in every post.