Cape Cod's Premier Senior Living Community
Home Low Vision Support Services Offer Alternatives
By Larry Lyford
Originally published in Cape & Plymouth Business Health & Wealth, summer 2014
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The Special Report on Aging by the American Foundation for the Blind draws attention to the dis- proportionate number of elderly individuals who have vision loss. Perhaps even more alarmingly, the trend is expected to continue to grow signi?cantly as the baby boomer generation continues to age. Experts predict that by 2030, rates of vision loss will double.
By 2015, 1.6 million senior citizens in the United States will be legally blind. By 2030 the number will be 2.4 million, double what it is today. As seniors age, physical limitations and age-related conditions create multiple challenges. For those with vision impairment, the challenge to maintain a life with quality becomes even greater. According to a national opinion poll released by the American Foundation for the Blind, Americans fear vision loss more than they fear cancer, HIV/ AIDS, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and other serious health problems.
Fortunately, modern standards of caregiving and advances in assistive technology mean that vision loss need not be the debilitating condition of years past. Doctors who specialize in low vision, occupational therapists with customized plans for adaptation and local organizations that assist this ever-expanding market ease the adjustment for those losing their vision.
Dr. Jennifer Salvo is an optometrist specializing in low-vision care and also serves as Medical Director for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind & Visually Impaired. Dr. Salvo explains that, “Low vision is visual impairment that cannot be corrected by wearing glasses or by surgery or other treatment. It affects a person’s ability to function in the world and perform daily tasks. It isn’t limited to the senior population, although the number of individuals who are visually impaired is growing as our population ages. People with low vision often have dif?culty reading or recognizing faces if they have a condition that impacts their central vision, such as macular degeneration. Other individuals with low vision may bump into things or experience falls due to poor peripheral, or side, vision.” A low vision exam is different from a dilated eye exam, since its focus is on improving visual function rather than assessing and treating eye conditions. During a low vision exam, Dr. Salvo assesses visual function, such as distance and near vision, ability to see lower contrast letters, peripheral vision, central vision, ability to use both eyes together, and color vision.
In light of the overwhelming statistics and the observation that most senior living communities have yet to address visual challenges speci?cally, an innovative new Low Vision Support Services program has recently begun at The Cove at Thirwood Place Assisted Living in South Yarmouth.
Residents of The Cove who choose to participate in the Low Vision Support Services program are taught skills to best use the technology and tools in their customized one- and two-bed- room apartments. Con?dence-building activities and the attention of an out- standing professional staff further enhance the residents’ daily lives. The Cove’s network of care is broadened by af?liations with both Cape Cod Healthcare and Sight Loss Services, providing experience, knowledge and support for the residential Low Vision Support Services program.
Ed Goodwin, General Manager of Thirwood Place, explains, “Our philosophy on vision loss support is to empower each resident to reach their potential and achieve their highest level of individual independence. A warm, friendly environment created by our staff invites residents to master alternative daily living techniques and new skills, allowing those with limited vision to have unlimited opportunities.”
The spacious assisted-living residences at The Cove at Thirwood Place are well-equipped with the latest in assistive tools and technology, designed with the needs of the visually impaired in mind. The apartment kitchens give residents the option of preparing meals using specialized appliances and low-vision-friendly devices, while the living room is enhanced with talk- technology from the telephones to thermostats, all carefully selected to promote con?dence, comfort and independence. The staff is well versed in the operation of all new devices and always available to assist the residents. A ‘scribe service’ is also offered for residents who request help with reading their mail or writing cards and letters. There are also daily recorded calls announcing activities and menus.
The ?rst of its kind in the region, the Low Vision Support Services program is a welcome addition for seniors seeking assisted living with specialized services to aid them in modifying their daily lives to their new circumstances of living with low or impaired vision. The program also sets at ease the minds of family members who aren’t always equipped to assist with the transition. Cynthia Stead, Executive Director of Cape Cod’s Sight Loss Services, is excited about the new program, saying, “Sight Loss Services is very proud to be af?liated with Thirwood Place in this venture. The human side is what makes them different. Anyone could purchase adaptive aids and give them to residents, but Thirwood is fully committed to the human side of the equation as well with their scribe services and ongoing training in these devices. That’s what will make this a real home for people who are visually impaired.”
Examples of modi?cations made to the assisted living apartments at The Cove at Thirwood Place range from low-tech “bump dots,” which are used to mark settings on stoves and washers/dryers, to high-tech iPads with targeted apps and a large ?at-screen television with an optical mouse used to greatly magnify reading materials. iPad apps include a money-reader to distinguish between bills, a color recognition program and another that announces calendar appointments and news, weather and sports. Additional physical changes include the addition of dimmers, high intensity task lighting, magnifying mirrors and contrasting colors of walls and switches for easy recognition. Integral to the success of the program is the ongoing education and training provided by the staff to the residents, opening up a whole new world to them.
Larry Lyford is the Director of Sales & Marketing for Thirwood Place, located in South Yarmouth. For more details on Low Vision Support Services or general information/tours of Thirwood Place, contact Larry Lyford at llyford@ thirwoodplace.com or (508) 398-8006.