Welcome Home to Cape Cod's Premier Senior Living Community

Apartments Tailored for limited sight

By 26th May, 2014 Life at Thirwood Comments Off

(Originally published in the Cape Cod Times)
By Patrick Cassidy

SOUTH YARMOUTH — Life with limited vision can be challenging, but a partnership between a local nonprofit organization and a Cape Cod assisted living facility could make it a little brighter.

The Cove at Thirwood Place, located on Flax Pond in South Yarmouth, is now marketing a new low-vision support services program complete with apartments outfitted with technology to help residents read, cook and better manage their environment.

“We’re equipping these apartments to make life easier for folks with low or impaired vision,” said Larry Lyford, director of sales and marketing at Thirwood Place, during a recent tour of a prototype unit.

Lyford and a small army of other officials, including Cynthia Stead, who is executive director of Sight Loss Services Inc. Cape Cod and Islands and a Times columnist, showed off a device that warns a user before his or her cup literally runs over and a computer mouse that reads and digitizes text, enlarging it on a flat television screen.

“I always like to demonstrate them on telephone books,” Stead said about the reader’s ability to boost the size of small print.

The apartments also come equipped with an iPad loaded with applications to scan bar codes, read money (Lyford showed how it could discern a $5 bill in his hand) and read aloud the resident’s calendar, news, weather and notes.

In the kitchen, adjustments ranged from the high tech (a talking microwave) to the simple (a cutting board colored black on one side and white on the other for contrast). The apartment also included a talking thermostat, thermometer and bathroom scale.

Stead and Thirwood officials said they expect the number of people with impaired vision on Cape Cod to continue to rise.

Last year, Sight Loss worked with 2,048 clients, including both individuals and institutions, Stead said. At least 1,500 of those are people with sight loss, she said. Barnstable County puts the number of legally blind residents at 1,900, she said.

“It’s probably closer to 7,000,” she said about the region’s population with low or impaired vision. That could easily double in the next 10 years, she said.

The Cove low-vision apartments — which can be equipped to order — also come with dimmers on all the lights and a high-intensity task lamp, said Beth Patkoske, spokeswoman for the Davenport Cos., which owns Thirwood.

The company is working with other partners to provide even more services and to train its employees to be better-prepared for clients with limited vision, said Lyford and Paul Rumul, chief operating officer for Davenport.

“The thing that’s going to make the difference is the staff, the care and compassionate follow-up,” Rumul said.

The technology and services are available for a one-time added cost of $2,000, which pays for equipping the apartment, he said.

Because help at the Cove is available 24 hours a day, residents can be taught how to use the technology as often as necessary, Patkoske said.

Thirwood, which has 212 units on 45 acres, is also collaborating with Cape Cod Healthcare and a doctor who works specifically with individuals who have low vision, she said.

Thirwood also offers scribe services to read residents mail or write out cards for them, Rumul said.

This is important because, while the reader technology can read printed material, it still has trouble with most handwriting, Stead said.

“This isn’t just new to the Cape,” Stead said about the suite of services. “This is new to New England.”

Despite research and progress at a significant cost, sight loss diseases are largely incurable, she said.

“It’s a matter of managing a condition as long as you can,” she said.

Rumul admits offering the low-vision services makes sense in other ways as well.

“This is just good business,” he said.

Follow Patrick Cassidy on Twitter: @PCassidycct.