Shirley McGee recently audited a Certified Senior Advisor class in Richmond, Virginia. She was impressed with one of the exercises, given to the students, which was intended to give them a better understanding of challenges faced by the elderly. The instructor had ordered special spectacles for each student to wear, which would give them a vision handicap. Then they were each given a standard medical rubber glove, a rubber band, a mock checkbook and a pen. They were then told to put on the glove and use the rubber band to secure their index finger to their thumb. Then they were told to put on the glasses and write out a check.
The instructor had chosen a perfect exercise to impress on the students the different world in which so many of the elderly live. It’s tough to understand the limitations of a particular age when you have either passed it by or have yet to live it. Try and remember what it felt like to be a child and unable to reach something you wanted. You’ll find it is nearly impossible to recall those feelings and experiences in a vivid manner because they are not part of your current life experience.
As someone who has worked with the elderly for many years, Shirley has become more sensitive to their world. She’s had to unlearn things. like firm handshakes, which as young working adults we are taught the importance of honing. Yet a firm handshake can be extremely painful to a retiree with arthritic fingers. So she watched with interest as these students become enlightened by struggling to write those checks. One student wanted to know why he had to wear glasses to distort his vision when everyone wears glasses to fix their vision now. Why wouldn’t the senior citizen just get glasses so he could see well enough to write out the check?
It is true that there are bifocals, trifocals and even a few highly specialized glasses that correct many vision issues; however there are a few things glasses just can’t fix. And there are several elderly vision issues in that category. Macular degeneration is one. If it is caught early, and it is the right type, and it responds to treatment, then Macular degeneration can be fixed. However there isn’t a set of glasses out there that is going to do anything for this troublesome vision problem.
Macular degeneration (in the United States) is the leading cause of blindness in people over 55 and it affects more than 1.75 million people. No one knows the cause of age-related macular degeneration, either, but it often runs in families. It also has a greater occurrence in Caucasian women with light colored eyes, but obesity, smoking, sleep apnea and exposure to sunlight may increase the likelihood of developing macular degeneration. It is just one of several elderly vision issues that you or a loved one may experience as you age.
Then there are cataracts, which slowly steal your vision away. Fortunately cataract surgery techniques have improved and success rates are high. However most people have to go through vision loss before the surgery is approved and scheduled. Yet, as an elderly vision issue, it is one the most benign because the techniques to deal with have improved greatly.
There is also diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma that the elderly often have to deal with, and I’m sure there are other less common elderly vision handicaps that some people have. It’s important to realize that many of the elderly you meet and interact with have vision issues that their glasses cannot address. Don’t assume that just because a person is wearing glasses that she or he can see you. Often they cannot.
These images are merely a simulation to help people who have normal vision better understand fairly common elderly vision issues and what the world may look like to them. They do not represent all eye issues nor do they represent every form of the vision distortion associated with these particular diseases. If you have any distortions of vision, it is best to see an ophthalmologist and your physician right away. The sooner treatment is begun, the more likely you are to get a promising prognosis, and problems with vision can often mask other issues that may be improved with proper treatment.
Always remember when dealing with the elderly that how they see and experience the world is likely vastly different than your own experience.