Vision loss can be devastating, not only for the one experiencing it but also for those who love them.
Watching your loved one cope with a painful diagnosis and the gradual loss of sight and functioning can be incredibly painful. You are likely to feel frightened, confused, helpless, and perhaps even angry.
The important thing to remember, however, is that you are not helpless. In fact, your loved one is likely to need you more than ever before, and it is within your power to meet that need with compassion, love, and understanding. With time and support, your loved one can manage their vision loss and continue to live a happy and fulfilling life.
Helping Your Loved One Grieve
In the early stages of the diagnosis, your loved one is probably going to experience a range of emotions, with unpredictable cycles of deep lows followed perhaps by seemingly irrational highs. They may experience periods of denial or outbursts of anger as they grapple with the diagnosis and the unexpected future that lies before them. In other words, they are likely to go through the recursive stages of grief as they mourn not only the loss of their sight but also the loss of their ordinary functioning and of the future they had envisioned for themselves and their loved ones.
As a part of the grieving process, your loved one is likely to experience a mixture of fear, depression, and even embarrassment over what they might perceive to be a loss of independence. Seniors, in particular, may feel infantilised or invalidated by having to ask an adult child or younger family member for help with daily tasks, such as dressing, meal preparation, or driving.
The key is to be patient and allow your loved ones to process their emotions. Give them the space and freedom to feel what they feel, without judging, taking offence, offering advice (no matter how well-intentioned), or giving false comfort. Be honest and empathetic. Above all, be a listening ear when they need one and a quiet, constant presence when the words won’t come.
Protecting Against Injury
As your loved one learns to navigate their world in the wake of vision loss, it’s important to prioritise safety. Invest in good lighting to minimise strain. Also try to ensure that you remove any potential fall hazards, such as a loose or slippery rug that your loved one may be unable to see. Ensure that doors are locked or safety gates are installed at the tops and bottoms of stairs and that all stairs are equipped with sturdy handrails on either side.
Explore Assistive Technologies
Perhaps one of the most frightening aspects of an impending vision loss for your loved one is the perceived loss of function and independence that will result. There’s no doubt that life will not be the same after the diagnosis. That does not mean that your loved one has to resign themselves to a life of solitude and emptiness in the darkness.
Every day, new technologies are emerging to help persons who are blind or have low vision lead more independent and fulfilling lives. For example, new wearable devices have been developed to help those with low vision or blindness search the internet and “read” and write text messages and emails.
Other wearables can help those with visual impairments better sense and navigate their environments. With practice, these technologies can enable wearers to safely go out and about in the community with little or no assistance.
Engaging in Favourite Activities
In addition to the fear of losing independence and functioning, those who are facing vision loss also often feel as if they will have to give up the activities they love the most. The reality is that with a bit of creativity and planning, many of the same activities they once enjoyed can still be pursued, even with some modifications.
For example, if your friend or family member loves to travel, there is absolutely no reason why that pastime can’t still be a significant and fulfilling part of their life. The principal difference will be in how they experience the trip.
If it’s no longer possible to take in the breathtaking scenery of a mountainscape, for instance, then there are other senses to play to:
- A tasting tour of the wineries of France
- A gourmet food tour of Italy
- A snorkelling or skydiving adventure
- A symphonic sampling of the great concert halls of Europe
With time to acclimate and adjust, your loved one can build an engaged, adventuresome life, and that can be a profound source of comfort and motivation when the dark moments come.
Vision loss can be heartbreaking, but it doesn’t have to be a tragedy. There are important steps you can take to help your loved one cope with their new normal. With your support, they can learn to live a happy, fulfilling, and engaged life, despite their visual impairment.