To most people, waking up each morning means seeing everything around you again; your family, the view outside your window, your pet, or just about any familiar object in your room. But there are those who could not open their eyes like this. Their ‘I woke up like this’ moment has taken a totally different meaning because they are blind or visually impaired. To some people with poor vision, there is no light even in the morning, only nothingness, much like the ‘back of your mind.' To some, it is like seeing through an eternal haze or a small hole.
Vision is something a lot of us take for granted. Imagine having to do everything with your eyes closed… A fun game maybe if done in a minute or so, but to experience this as an ordeal every day, blindness or poor vision could be a big pit of depression to fall into.
Caregivers must care for visually impaired patients with empathy and keep in mind the following great tips to let them go about their day feeling safe and accomplished.
1. KEEP THE PATIENT SAFE
Safety is a priority. For those who are just recently struggling with poor vision or blindness, it is frustrating to be unable to see the world as they used to. It is important to stay with them and support them in all their needs.
Remove clutter and anything that might get in their way around the house. Never keep a door ajar. Either close or completely open it or else they may bump into the edge of the door. If they rely on good lighting to adequately see, ensure that their surroundings are brightly lit. When rearranging furniture, inform the patient first and then indicate the new location of all the things that were moved.
If you are to walk with them, stay on their side while letting their hand hold your upper arm. If the path is narrow, inform the patient beforehand and step forward so that they automatically walk behind you.
If there is an immediate danger, say ‘stop!' rather than ‘watch out'. Always fully describe the patient's path, especially if there is a sudden need to step up, down, or to the side.
When it comes to being independent in activities of daily living, arrange their medications preferably in different containers, or in rectangular pillboxes with compartments. Read the expiration dates of medicines to them. While eating, if there is any hot soup, tell them the location of the hot soup using the clock-hand placement as a guide. Remind them that the soup is very hot. Also, do not fill their glasses up to the brim to prevent them from spilling their drink.
If they are walking with a guide dog, the dog must not be distracted. It should not be petted, fed, or interacted with. The animal is trained to lead, so it is good to just stay on the side and let the dog guide the patient.
Be the person’s shopping buddy by reading the label or tag for them, and helping them make choices in their purchases.
2. SHOW RESPECT
The right approach to helping a patient with vision problems is to greet them using their name and to identify yourself as a caregiver. Before entering their room, knock on the door and let them know that you wish to enter.
Do not assume that the blind or all those with poor vision would need help, so always ask them if they need assistance. If they do not accept your help, do not feel bad about it. Saying 'no' to your offer is just a sign that they are very independent and capable of doing things on their own.
When it is time to leave or stop the conversation, say that you need to go so that the conversation can be completed. When you need to ask something, address the patient directly and not their companion.
Caregivers must exercise patience when helping the visually impaired because it may take longer for them to do things.
3. BE THEIR EYES AND THEIR GUIDE
If something is going on, explain and describe what is happening. If the patient is eating, describe their food to them and tell which food is on what part of the plate. Use the placement of the hands of the clock to describe the arrangement of the food on the plate or the table.
If they want to be seated on a chair, let them hold the back of the chair, so they will know how to seat themselves.
Do not feel awkward using ordinary language to guide them as long as you are clear and specific. Of course, this also means not pointing at something and saying, ‘over there’ at the same time.
Always use the patient as the reference when referring to directions such as ‘left' and ‘right.’ When you are facing the patient ‘Take a step to the left,' means that they need to step to their left, not yours. Always anticipate the path and tell them to either step up or down or to keep their head low as appropriate.
4. ACCOMPANY THEM IN THEIR EYE CHECK UPS AND PROVIDE LOW VISION AIDS AND ASSISTIVE DEVICES IF NEEDED
A patient's vision may need to be checked regularly. A caregiver can help them by accompanying them to the vision center and then bringing all their medication records and other necessary documents. If vision aids are prescribed, the caregiver must ensure that they are available for the patient to use. They may need a white cane to help them walk, so the caregiver must provide them with one.
Caring for the blind or those with low vision may be challenging at first. But in due time after a lot of patience, the patient and the caregiver would be able to develop their own tempo of doing things so that both feel less stressed and more fulfilled. The most important role of the caregiver is to let the patient appreciate and experience the world through them.
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