Vision Rehabilitation Transforms Lives

Although some level of vision change is expected as we age, significant vision loss often is the result of age-related medical conditions and eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts and more. These eye conditions can dramatically impact quality of life, and vision rehabilitation services and training offer tremendous benefits, including increased safety, confidence and independence.

Impact Far Beyond Vision Loss

Significant vision loss substantially increases the risk of accidents, including falls, because vision helps us recognize obstacles and trip hazards. Nearly half (47%) of older people in the United States with blindness and low vision report falling, compared to 28% of older people without vision loss.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that among U.S. adults ages 65 and older, the leading cause of injury and injury deaths is unintentional falls. Addressing falls risk among those with blindness and low vision through falls prevention interventions and vision rehabilitation services—such as orientation and mobility training—can prevent long-term complications of fractures (a broken hip or other bones) and related functional decline in older adults. Read more from the NIH about Falls and Fractures in Older Adults: Causes and Prevention.

At least 17.9% of people with vision impairment vs. 7.3% without vision impairment report frequent mental distress.

The Aging and Vision Loss National Coalition (AVLNC) and VisionServe Alliance, in partnership with The Ohio State University College of Optometry, published Big Data Project Reports on “Adults 65+,” with a national report and many state reports. The reports highlight the prevalence of vision loss among adults ages 65 and older at the national, state and local levels. Reports also confirm the profound increase in the incidence of a broad range of medical conditions faced by adults living with significant vision loss. For example:

  • Diabetes—36.4% with vision impairment vs. 22.1% without vision impairment
  • Stroke—16.9% with vision impairment vs. 7.3% without vision impairment
  • Heart attack—18.2% with vision impairment vs. 10.1% without vision impairment
  • Hearing impairment—33.3% with vision impairment vs. 13.8% without vision impairment, and
  • Depression—26.9% with vision impairment vs. 13.9% without
  • Added conditions: Adults with vision loss also face a higher percentage of these conditions: asthma, cancer, COPD, arthritis, kidney disease, high cholesterol, and hypertension

These factors, combined with other socioeconomic factors, also result in adults ages 65 and older with vision loss reporting significantly higher rates of:

  • Poorer health—51.4% with vision impairment vs. 23.3% without vision impairment
  • Frequent physical distress—35.6% with vision impairment vs. 15.9% without vision impairment
  • Frequent mental distress—17.9% with vision impairment vs. 7.3% without vision impairment
  • Frequent limitations in activity—34.3% with vision impairment vs. 18.9% without vision impairment

Vision loss also impacts disability status:

  • Concentrating and remembering—29.3% with vision impairment vs. 8.2% without vision impairment
  • Walking and climbing stairs—56.9% with vision impairment vs. 25.4% without vision impairment
  • Dressing and bathing—19.1% with vision impairment vs. 5% without vision impairment
  • Running errands—35.3% with vision impairment vs. 7.7% without vision impairment

Adults living with vision loss face many complex and confounding factors that can vastly diminish long-term health and quality of life. Blindness and low vision can lead to a loss of independence, resulting in institutionalized living.

Vision Rehabilitation Offers Hope and Life-Changing Support

Vision rehabilitation can significantly enhance the quality of life of people living with blindness and low vision and help them to age in place versus entering institutions. Vision rehabilitation agencies located across the United States provide crucial training and support.

Before beginning vision rehabilitation services, an eye doctor will perform a comprehensive eye (or low vision) exam. A functional assessment also identifies significant challenges with daily living. Based on these tests and evaluations, a vision rehabilitation agency will develop a customized plan that addresses each client’s unique goals and needs.

The type of vision rehabilitation services and training provided will vary by individual. It may consist of a combination of these types of training: independent daily living skills, orientation and mobility, access technology, adaptive devices and aids, employment services and more. Many agencies also offer added support services, including support groups, where people with vision loss can share challenges and success strategies. Vision Rehabilitation specialists and support groups also can help adults adjust to vision loss. This diagnosis can be devastating and lead to increased rates of anxiety, isolation and depression.

‘Vision rehabilitation can significantly enhance the quality of life of people living with blindness and low vision.’

Although vision rehabilitation training and related support services provide tremendous benefits and support, tragically, less than 5% of those who could benefit from vision rehabilitation services receive them. Please help us change that!

Vision Rehabilitation Week is June 10–16

Join us to celebrate and commemorate Vision Rehabilitation Week from June 10–16. It’s the perfect opportunity to spread the word about Vision Rehabilitation programs to anyone you know, work with, or support who lives with blindness and low vision. Learn more about Vision Rehabilitation Week and download content and images to help you share information about vision rehabilitation with family and friends on social media.

Accessing Vision Rehabilitation Programs and Services

  • Resources for individuals with blindness and vision loss, their families and caregivers: Visit Time to Be Bold to locate local vision rehabilitation services and other vital resources. Call the APH hotline to receive support and practical coping strategies for everyday tasks, join remote discussion groups, and access free online resources at the APH Connect Center and VisionAware.
  • Medical and Other Professionals: Clients can be referred to local vision rehabilitation agencies. Although referrals can be provided once all medical interventions are exhausted, vision rehabilitation training is enhanced when clients begin training as soon as they experience challenges with daily living. Visit Time to Be Bold to locate local vision rehabilitation services and other vital resources in your area.
  • Aging Services Organizations: Staff and volunteers can access online resources to help clients with vision loss learn more about vision rehabilitation services, such as Getting Started 2020: A Guide for People New to Vision Loss or La Guia de Inicio 2020: Dirigida a personas que hand perdido la vision recientemente.
  • All Organizations can also access a wide range of information and resources about aging and vision loss at the Older Individuals Who Are Blind Technical Assistance Center (OIB-TAC). OIB-TAC offers free online resources, tools, training, and courses for people who support older adults living with blindness or low vision.
  • Johnson & Johnson offers important information regarding inherited retinal diseases, related genetic testing, and much more.

For more information, enjoy 11 previous articles in this VisionServe Alliance series: The Reality of Aging and Vision Loss in America, Vision Rehabilitation Can Complete the Continuum of Care, Vision Rehabilitation—Help and Hope, Vision Rehabilitation Helps Older Adults Thrive, Shining a Light on Inclusion: Empowering People with Vision Impairment, Vision Rehabilitation Professionals Make the Difference, The Connection Between Health and Vision Impairment, How to Meet the Growing Challenge of Older Americans with Vision Loss, Identifying Services for Those with Vision Loss, A 21st-Century Vision for an Age-Old Problem, and Creating an Enriching Work Life for Older Adults with Vision Loss.

Lee Nasehi, MSW, is president and CEO of VisionServe Alliance, which leads a cooperative of member organizations that advance the vision loss field, and Aging and Vision Loss National Coalition (AVLNC), which addresses critical issues impacting older adults with blindness and low vision. Previously, Nasehi served as president and CEO of Lighthouse Central Florida and Lighthouse Works. She is the parent of an adult son who is blind and has other disabilities.

Photo credit: SeventyFour