With the number of seniors with low vision expected to double by 2030 as more and more baby boomers begin experiencing sight issues related to glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration, many family members and caregivers are facing concerns about how to make sure the holidays are a problem-free and joyous time for their visually impaired and blind relatives.
Here are some tips to keep in mind this season to ensure the holidays are brighter for your visually impaired relative or loved one:
- When decorating for the holidays, do not reorganize major items. Visually impaired adults rely on their knowledge of a home’s layout in order to navigate rooms and avoid bumping into walls or furniture, or falling down stairs. While hanging up lights and other holiday decorations, avoid rearranging furniture, belongings and other common household items. Consistency is vital for someone with vision loss. Moving things, especially necessary items such as medications and canes, can confuse and distress a visually impaired individual.
- Opt for safe alternatives to decorations that can become dangerous. Candles, for example, can cause fires if the table they are on is accidentally bumped by someone who is unable to see it clearly. Choose battery-powered candles instead, or set candle holders in a dish of water, just in case.
- Use contrasting colors on and around the dinner table when planning your big holiday meal. For those with limited vision, items tend to blur into one another. If the floor in the dining room is a light color, a dark tablecloth will help distinguish the table from the floor and the walls so that the low vision individual will not bump into the table. To make it easier to eat, use dark colored dishes when serving light colored food and vice-versa.
- Choose and wrap holiday gifts with vision impairment in mind. Consider gifts that can help him or her live life more easily, such as products with larger-than-normal features and audio capabilities. Examples of gifts include large print playing cards, jumbo remote controls, a large analog clock, iPads or Kindle Readers, and audio books. Use gift bags instead of wrapping paper and ribbon, which can be difficult for low-vision adults to maneuver.
- Narrate your holiday gatherings and parties. Be sure to verbally introduce yourself when you walk into a room or join a group conversation, as it is often difficult for a visually impaired individuals to recognize people by their voices, especially in a large group setting. When speaking, make an effort to be verbally descriptive and avoid pointing to things in the room with phrases like “over there” or “this way.” Describe gifts that are being opened and suggest that they might be passed around to ensure the low-vision family member feels a part of the ceremony.
- Empower everyone to participate. For low-vision relatives, it’s incredibly frustrating not to be able to be as active during holiday celebrations as their sighted loved ones. Too often the visually impaired person is guided to the living room while everyone else gathers in the kitchen to work. Instead, give him or her a job – like folding napkins or drying dishes – so he or she can feel part of the group.
- During the holidays and always, be supportive. Patience is key. Offer advice and resources without being overbearing. Actively listen to what the individual needs. If necessary, consult resources, like the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, who can connect you and your family with medical professionals that help visually impaired and blind adults live with confidence and dignity in their own homes.
Jesse Mermell is the State Director of Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI), one of the oldest and leading providers of vision rehabilitation. MABVI’s vision rehabilitation services and support groups, including the Reading Elders Support Group, help people with low vision maximize their remaining sight and learn to use adaptive strategies for completing daily tasks. For more information visit: http://www.mabcommunity.org or visit MABVI on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/mabvi) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/TheMABVI).