How can I stay active with vision loss?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

Severely impaired vision has made it difficult for my mother to move around without bumping into things. How can I help her stay active and safe?

Expert Answers

Lylas Mogk, M.D. is an ophthalmologist and director of the Henry Ford Visual Rehabilitation and Research Center in Grosse Pointe and Livonia, Michigan, and the author of Macular Degeneration: The Complete Guide to Saving and Maximizing Your Sight.

The vision we use to avoid bumping into objects is our peripheral vision -- what we see at the edges of our vision. If your mother has lost part or all of her peripheral vision, she'll benefit from rehabilitation training to become aware of the missing area of vision. It'll help her learn to adjust to the fact that she may not be seeing some of the things around her.

She'll do best at home if furniture and other objects remain in their familiar places and are as high contrast as possible. Dark furniture will be easiest for her to see on a light rug, for example. Paths should be free of obstacles, hazards like throw rugs should be removed, and good lighting should be installed throughout her home, particularly in stairways.

For travel outside the home, a cane would be helpful. Two kinds of canes are available, and the choice depends on your parent's vision and her general health. If her vision is very limited, a long white cane can be used to "see" objects in her path. If the goal is to avoid falls (on steps and curbs, for example), or if her balance is imperfect -- making loss of vision more dangerous -- a short white support cane can be used. With either option, she'll need to be shown how to use it effectively.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers information and resources for locating services in your area. Its patient handout, "SmartSight: Making the Most of Remaining Vision," is very helpful. Another good resource is The American Foundation for the Blind Senior Site .