Low vision or blindness affects approximately 1 in 28 Americans over the age of 40, and the risk of low vision and blindness increases significantly with ageespecially among people over 65.
Low Vision is a Growing Trend
Today, 6.5 million Americans over age 65 have a severe visual impairment, and experts predict that by 2030 the rate of severe vision loss will double along with the country's aging population.
Low vision can have profound and adverse effects on the overall health and well-being of older adults such as a greater risk of depression, drug-related errors caused by an inability to identify medications, and an increased risk of falls and fractures.
Low Vision Increases Risk of Falls and Fractures
Falls are the leading cause of death among people 65 and older, and people with low vision are at even greater risk of falls or fractures, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control.
The CDC study found that 1.8 million elderly not living in nursing homes reported difficulty with bathing, dressing and walking around the house in part because of a visual impairment. However, fewer than 2 percent reported using assistive equipment such as telescopic lenses and canes, which could improve their safety.
Preventing Falls and Other Injuries Related to Low Vision
In 2003, falls among older adults accounted for 12,900 deaths, 1.8 million emergency department visits, and 421,000 hospitalizationsbut many falls can be prevented. [For more information about preventing falls, see 4 Simple Steps to Prevent Falling.
Safety Tips for People with Low Vision
To help people with low vision perform everyday tasks more easily while reducing their risk of falls and other injuries, the American Foundation for the Blind offers several useful tips:
- Keep rooms well lit. Good overall lighting is a must for safety.
- Use task lighting to make everyday activities easier.
- Use night lights in bedrooms, hallways, bathrooms, and the kitchen to make it easier for people with low vision to navigate in the dark.
- Make stairways safer by placing a brightly colored strip of tape along the edge of each step.
- Make door frames and light switches easier to see by painting them a color that contrasts with the walls around them.
- Cut light-colored items on a dark cutting board and dark items on a light cutting board. [Some companies now sell cutting boards that are white on one side and black on the other.]
- Place plates and food service items on placemats that are a contrasting color.
- Use pill organizers with raised markings or talking labels to help prevent serious medication mishaps.
- Eliminate clutterdispose of unnecessary items, put things away as soon as you have finished using them, and always return them to the same place.
- Reposition television sets so that neither sunlight nor lamplight shines directly on the screen.
More Resources for People with Low Vision
For more tips on safety and independent living for people with visual impairments, see the this Senior Site, which is sponsored by the American Foundation for the Blind.