Coping with Life Changes as We Grow Older

Unexpected Changes in Vision As We Age Bring Unexpected Solutions

Older woman talking on phone

With age there are many changes in life, some good and others that are more difficult. Some we expect, becoming grandparents, retiring, even arthritis and gray hair, but then we have the unexpected changes. At times we lose friends and loved ones, some struggle with the effects of a stroke, heart attack, and we even see friends and their families battle Alzheimer’s disease and the declines. Another loss many face is their vision.

Age-related Vision Loss Can Affect All Areas of Life

The loss can include simple everyday tasks such as reading the morning paper or paying bills or the plans and dreams of these golden years to travel, play golf or see the Grand Canyon. As a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, I help individuals cope with their vision loss every day and I feel that if people cannot do what they want to do, they won’t want to do what they need to do.

For Grace and Bill this is what retirement meant. They had planned and saved to be able to travel across the country. Bill, an avid golfer, wanted to play on list of courses he had been compiling for years.

Bill had noticed some changes in how well he could see so he went to the doctor for new glasses. There he received what to him was a shocking diagnosis: he had macular degeneration. The doctor told him he was lucky as he had the dry type and that generally did not progress quickly.

I met Bill and Grace five years later. Bill was struggling to read print and was ready to give up golf. Grace told me Bill had postponed their last trip, she felt he was having trouble when he wasn’t familiar with his surroundings.

Fear of the UnKnown

As I worked with Bill he told me he was afraid of what was happening, of losing his sight and not being able to take care of Grace. We talked about what he could and could not see and what he could do to use his vision more effectively. And then we talked about golf. When Bill learned about the United States Blind Golf Association and some alternative methods, he was back on the course. He quickly realized that a bright orange ball was much easier for him to see. He also found out that his friends did not mind in the least telling where the ball went, especially, he told me, if it landed in the water! He also found that with a magnifier he could be sure that they were keeping an accurate score.

Picture of older golfer with vision loss swing a golf club

Adapting To Change

About a year ago, Bill decided that it was time to try a trip. Grace talked him into “just a short one” as she would be doing all the driving. When they returned all they could talk about was how much fun they had and where they wanted to go next. They have planned a longer trip for this summer.

The plans Bill and Grace had for their retirement have changed. They are spending more time at home where Bill has discovered a love for grilling. Now sometimes they travel with friends, recently going on a cruise with several other couples they met at a support group for vision loss. Bill has found his list of dream courses again and is talking about how he and some friends can play some of them.

Recently I asked Bill and Grace what was the most unexpected impact of Bill’s vision loss for them. The answers surprised me. For Bill it was the realization that he was capable of overcoming obstacles placed before him, even the ones that required help. But it was Grace’s response that made me think, “When Bill is criticizing my driving and I remind him that the bus doesn’t go to the golf course, he is quiet. Amazing!”

“Growing Old Ain’t No Place For Sissies”

Bette Davis coined this phrase, little knowing that her words would predict the dilemma we face today in providing services to help individuals who face vision problems and other conditions as they age. After five years, Bill finally found out about services and was able to turn his life around and figure out new ways to enjoy life, with the help of his wife Grace. But there are millions of other people like Bill, who do not find out about services or do not have a family support system. What does the future hold for them? Read about AFB’s efforts to make a difference through giving input to the 2015 White House Conference on Aging. Fill in our survey so we can share your concerns with the White House conference conveners. Tell us your story. Comment on this blog. Yes, “old age may not be for sissies,” but remember the words of Maggie Kuhn, who formed the Grey Panthers, “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.” Help America listen. Be part of making a difference.

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