Tips on Living Alone with a Visual Impairment

Before I moved into town a few years ago, Andy, a man in his mid-90s with advanced “wet” macular degeneration was one of my close neighbours.

The expert on living alone with macular degeneration

His sight had deteriorated before the injections had become available, but he embraced them when they did. He lived on his own with only a caregiver who came in one or two days a week. She took him grocery shopping or to whichever appointments he had, including his regular eye injections.

The value of support systems for the visually impaired

His next-door neighbour checked every morning to see if his blinds were open, his signal that he was ok. She was his rock and is a good reminder that our social support systems are so very important. She was tearing up as I asked her if she had any input for this story. Sadly, he passed away at age 101, but still enjoying life and (remarkably) still living alone in his own home.

If I remember correctly, he was about 90 when he gave me his electric treadmill, as he found it was becoming difficult to maintain his balance. He did use a walker when outside. Some of the things I learned from him were just common sense, others were “aha!” moments.

Organization is key to living alone with AMD

The obvious was a place for everything and everything in its place. After coming home with his groceries, his caregiver would put elastics around certain cans so he could distinguish by feel. But he needed to put everything away himself so he would be able to easily find whatever he wanted. He did much of his own cooking, although she did prepare a few meals ready for him to reheat. His knives were in a certain pattern in a knife block on the counter, ensuring safety when he reached into his silverware drawer

Help, but only so much

He had the drugstore dispense his medications in a bubble pack, so he could get them by feel, although I know the occasional ones ended up on the floor. If you were helping him do something and needed a screwdriver he could find it in seconds because he was so organized. He kept the small hand tools in a cutlery tray and knew exactly where each was. But never try to help by putting them away, he needed to do it himself so he could find them next time.

It might be necessary to make some changes

He eventually got rid of the small mats so he wouldn’t trip on them, also gave away his glass coffee table. Even though he knew exactly where it was, he would still occasionally catch his shin on the edge. A dark one worked much better for him. He had a CCTV, which he used for many years, and still could when necessary, but it had become more difficult for him as his sight declined.

A wonderful neighbour

His walks down the street slowly shortened to where he only went to the end of his driveway. He would sit there on his walker and converse with any of the neighbours passing by. Most enjoyed stopping as he was articulate and always upbeat.

This started out as a story to show how we could manage on our own if our macular degeneration progressed, but I think it's ended as a kindly-meant tribute to a resourceful, friendly old man.

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