Taking It to the Streets: Make the 21st Century Agenda on Aging and Vision Loss Happen on a Local Level

As highlighted in a post in May regarding critical issues for older persons with vision loss, AFB has joined with other advocates in a renewed 21st Century Agenda on Aging and Vision Loss. Why is this important? Check out the facts.

man holding white cane speaking at protest   

Building the Case

As laid out in the www.afb.org/aging, the Agenda’s web page, older adults with vision loss are frequently overlooked and underserved. Vision loss can also exacerbate normal changes associated with aging..

Loneliness, Isolation, and Vision Loss

Colleen O’Donnell, OT, CVLT, notes that among older persons, visual impairment is associated with depressive symptoms and lower life satisfaction. This may be due, in part, to activity limitations and decreased self-esteem (both factors connected to isolation), according to Brown & Barrett. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control studies indicate that older adults with moderate or extreme vision loss are more likely to experience heart disease and diabetes and are less likely to report excellent or very good health than seniors without vision loss (2011).

Both aging and vision loss can each lead to isolation; thus, isolation and its negative impacts on health and quality of life major concerns of older adults with vision loss and their families. One older person wrote to the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), “Since my vision went south… the few resources available assume that all I will ever do is go to doctor appointments. …I would like to have a social life, but all hope of that is fading fast.”

Even more disheartening is a study by Berger of 26 older adults with vision loss, that found that, despite desiring and enjoying being active in their communities, all of her participants had difficulties engaging in leisure activities outside their homes. These seniors cited “challenging environments, struggling to get there, feeling vulnerable, having decreased energy, and lacking assertiveness” as barriers to participation (pp. 9-10).

Agenda Seeks to Tackle These Issues with Four Goals

  • Goal One: Funding for services
  • Goal Two: Ensuring availability and quality of professional services
  • Goal Three: Collaboration across service delivery systems to maximize resources for tackling critical needs (e.g. transportation)
  • Goal Four: Funding for low vision devices

Progress on Each Goal

Goal One

A fact sheet (links to a Word file) on the numbers of older people with vision loss in this country and the need for services has been developed for use in educational and advocacy efforts.

Goal Two

Goal participants are working on surveys to determine the “state of the nation” regarding qualified personnel. Once these surveys are completed, the group will work on next steps.

Goal Three

This goal group has chosen to concentrate on transportation and is currently ramping up its efforts in this area.

Goal Four

Legislation has been introduced in Congress (H.R. 2050) that provides for a Medicare demonstration project to evaluate the fiscal impact of covering low vision devices as durable medical equipment under Part B of the Medicare program, and will work toward the passage of this important legislation for all people with low vision, especially seniors. The American Council of the Blind is leading this effort.

What Can You Do in Your Own Community?

Get involved in advocacy efforts related to the welfare of older persons with vision loss. Health care is a major issue and the Senate is trying to schedule a vote the week of the 26th to repeal significant parts of the Affordable Care Act that would affect Medicaid.

Action Steps

Call your Senators and tell them, No Cuts or Caps to Medicaid!. You can call your Senators by dialing the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. When calling, here are some talking points:

  • Medicaid is the largest single payer of long-term care in our nation.
  • Medicaid is the only way most people can afford long-term care.
  • Medicaid allows long-term care consumers to stay in their homes.
  • For nursing home residents and other long-term care consumers, cuts or caps to Medicaid would result in cuts to available care and services and would make it harder to qualify for care.

Get Involved in the 2lst Century National Agenda on Aging and Vision Loss

It may be national in scope, but change starts at the grassroots level. How does your community measure up?

Talk to senior centers and other locations that provide services and programming for older persons about what they can do to be inclusive.

Heed Amy Bovaird’s advice on “building bridges” in her post on the value of senior centers. She says, “If there aren’t currently accommodations, let’s speak up and tell senior centers what’s needed to enable us to better fit in to the centers. Whether it’s something physical like more lighting, audio description services, activities in braille or large print, human guides, open discussions of emotional needs such as through support groups, transportation—whatever the case may be, let’s bring that information to the table and continue to change our communities for seniors who are visually impaired.”

Keep up with what is going on with the Agenda. To find out more about Agenda activities including goal group initiatives, join our Google Group listserv and select “contact the owner,” or email Sarah Malaier.

Additional Information

Medicare Coverage of Low Vision Devices Act Needs Advocacy and Support

Understanding Our Shifting Health Insurance Landscape