As a relative, carer or friend, how do you help your loved one cope with losing their sight?
A visual impairment affects each individual differently, and understandably the impact can touch and affect relatives, carers and wider friendship networks too.
Be there to listen and don’t be afraid to talk
If a friend or loved one with sight loss wants to talk to you about the problems they are experiencing, take the time to listen to them. Letting them know you are there as a listening ear and that they are not alone is an important first step. If you’re looking for a way to approach the topic and provide some reassurance, you could perhaps start by mentioning you have noticed they are experiencing some difficulties with things such as preparing a meal or going shopping. Advise them that there are good support networks available and pieces of specialist equipment that may help.
Reach out to professionals and support networks
As much as you will want to help in any way you can, every person has their own experience of sight loss and there may be circumstances in which an expert outside of home is perhaps better placed to provide the advice and support your loved one needs.
There are many professionals and organisations out there who can help provide training, support and solutions. For any medical advice relating to their sight, it is always best to encourage your friend or loved one to initially contact their GP or local optician and they may then be referred on to the local hospital eye department.
Each local authority has a social work sensory impairment service or voluntary organisation who can offer support and advice, including emotional support and advice on registration, benefits, the Scottish Blind Persons Travel Card and much more. Specialist rehabilitation officers can provide expert advice and training to maximise an individual’s safety, independence and quality of life.
Be mindful of your own feelings and wellbeing
The life-changing impact of experiencing sight loss naturally touches a person’s relatives and friends, too. It’s important to remember that it is normal and completely understandable if you also find yourself struggling.
If you are caring for someone who has sight loss, it is important to be able to take some time for yourself, too. Self-care is vital for your own wellbeing, as well as your loved one.
Keep mindful of how you’re feeling as you support your loved one and know that it’s okay for you to reach out for help for yourself, too. Local carers’ centres are independent charities and offer a great source of support. Local sensory impairment teams and voluntary organisations may be able to help with advice and signposting onto appropriate organisations. It may be possible to arrange respite and this often benefits both the carer and visually impaired person.
Learn about your loved one’s sight condition
You may not know exactly what it is like to live with a visual impairment yourself, but making efforts to learn all you can about what your loved one is experiencing shows them your willingness to support them and puts you in a better position to help. Learning about it together with your loved one means you’re overcoming the challenges as a team. There are many useful leaflets and online resources you could visit, such as exploring our Information and Advice section, as well as the RNIB and Macular Society’s websites.
Many people find it valuable to watch online videos on what people with certain eye conditions such as macular degeneration may see. Your local sensory impairment team or rehabilitation officer may have simulated glasses they can let you try out and these are a way of experiencing a little taste of what difficulties may be experienced by visually impaired people.
Encourage your loved one to maintain their independence
Understandably, a very common concern for many people experiencing sight loss is the thought of losing their independence. It can be a scary and worrying thought. But it needn’t be this way, and there are many different solutions and support networks to help maintain independence.
A rehabilitation officer can assess for specialist equipment and provide support such as long cane and route training, which can really help a person with a visual impairment to maintain their independence and regain confidence. The prospect of using equipment can feel daunting at first, but the impact of equipment and training can be life-changing, so encourage and support your loved one to embrace it where they can.
Some well-intending relatives and friends may think they are being helpful when in fact they are doing things that are reducing a person’s independence. Rehabilitation officers can also work closely with you and the whole family unit, as well as your loved one, to give you the correct knowledge, training and confidence to support them to adapt to life with sight loss and regain and maintain their independence.
Help make simple changes at home
Small changes and adaptations at home can really help your loved one practically. Remove clutter from the house and remove things like rugs that could be potential trip hazards. Maintain consistency in where items are kept too – this really helps someone with sight loss to find things more easily. Your loved one will have items placed where they know they can reach them easily, so don’t be tempted to ‘tidy up’ for them. will have items where they know they can lay their hand on easily. Help to make sure there is good lighting, as this can make a huge difference to everyday life. These are simple tips but can be really effective in helping your friend or relative maintain their independence.
Some visually impaired people may need additional adaptations such as a handrail addition or walk in shower. Contact your local sensory impairment team or social work department to refer for assessment.
You can find out more about maintaining independence here.
Seek additional support if needed
Many visually impaired people are over the age of 70 and as such it is likely they could have additional health problems. Some people may need to move to supported accommodation such as sheltered housing. Your local sensory impairment team or social work department can help with further advice.
Sight Scotland runs the only nursing homes in Scotland that specialise in caring for older people who are blind or partially sighted. Find out more.