Three common myths about impaired vision in the elderly

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an elderly womanGetting older is unavoidable. Aging brings on changes in our body and our eyes are not immune to change. According to recent findings by the World Health Organization (WHO), 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide: 39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision. Remarkably, 80% of all visual impairment can be prevented or cured. Unfortunately myths around vision continue to thrive. Consider this: when you hear the term “vision impairment”, what comes to mind? Blindness? Do you have visions of guide dogs and people with white canes? There are many myths surrounding vision impairment, especially in the elderly, but three common ones continue to survive and thrive:

 

Myth 1: I can’t see well, I am blind!

 Like many other things in life, vision is not an all or nothing phenomenon. In fact, it can vary:

  • Normal vision of the familiar 20/20 sight can be achieved by most people with the aid of glasses or contact lenses.
  • Mild or moderate vision loss is when reading becomes challenging or recognizing faces is difficult.
  • Severe vision loss causes someone to see shadows or have no light perception (which means a person lives in total darkness).
  • Total blindness, when a person cannot see any light at all, is very rare.

Not being able to read does not make you “blind”, but instead you may be experiencing the early stages of vision impairment. Most eye doctors prefer to use the term “low vision” to describe permanently reduced vision that cannot be corrected with regular glasses, contact lenses, medication, or surgery.

 

Myth 2: Losing my vision is just a part of getting older, there is nothing I can do and I just need to accept it.

There are some steps that can be taken to maintain your eye health as you age. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) offers some of the following suggestions:

  • Quit smoking. Smokers are three to four times more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the number one cause of significant vision loss in people over 50 in Canada.
  • Get healthy. A diet high in fats and low in nutrients may increase the risk of developing AMD. Keep active: excess weight, a sedentary lifestyle and high blood pressure are all risk factors for AMD and diabetic retinopathy.
  • Protect your eyes from sunlight. Exposure to sunlight is associated with a higher risk of developing AMD and cataracts. Wear a hat with a brim, and choose sunglasses that provide at least 98% protection from ultraviolet (UV) rays. Check the vendor tag for the UV rating before you buy eye wear.

 

Myth 3: If I lose my vision, I will lose my independence or quality of life.

There seems to be a stigma attached to losing one’s vision. People fear isolation, losing their independence, and becoming a burden to family and friends, changes that can diminish one’s quality of life. Services are readily available to help you if you are experiencing difficulties with your vision. With a referral from your health care physician, you can access the services provided by vision rehabilitation centers across Canada. These agencies can offer support in the following ways:

  • Providing assistive devices, such as magnifiers, special lamps and other devices, as well as providing tips on how to arrange the lighting in your home, modify the buttons on your stove or microwave to make them easier to use, in order to makes daily living and activities more manageable.
  • Providing orientation and mobility – when vision deteriorates and you require the use of a cane, a vision rehabilitation specialist could come to your home to teach you how to navigate around your home and how to get out and navigate around town, walking safely and using public transit.

The good news is that these myths should be put out of mind – and out of sight. Help is available if you require it. It is important to schedule regular checkups with an optometrist who will be your best asset in maintaining your eye health and providing you with the next steps should any vision issues arise.


By Tanja Gninka. Tanja holds a Bachelor`s degree in Psychology from Concordia University. She worked for over 10 years in research, many of which were dedicated to the field of vision impairment. Health and nutrition have always been an interest of hers which led her to pursue a certification with CanfitPro as a Nutrition and Weight Loss Specialist. Tanja is a member of the Shepell Fitness Coach Connects Team.

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