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Adapting to Life With Macular Degeneration

Somewhere along the line, either here or in the blog, I complained about two things that were really giving me fits. After decades of success, my vision loss had me unable to accomplish two basic skills: inserting plugs into electric outlets and engaging the zipper on my own coat.

Relearning skills with a visual impairment

People in the know suggested I get away from the outlet-behind-the-furniture-in-the-dark dilemma by using power strips. Good as far as at least finding the outlet. I will spare you the frustrated rant about how many times I inserted one prong in the power strip and let the other one hanging out along the side. News flash: Nothing charges on one prong. Nothing.

The trouble with coats

Zipping my own coat? I bought a jacket in Killarney and stood there for five minutes trying to engage the zipper. The Irish are lovely people. The shopkeeper zipped me up. Thanks, Mom!

Making progress despite my vision loss

Rather than talking about my failures here, though, I would like to talk about my accomplishments. I am now able to hit the outlet with a plug about 8 out of 10 times. I can also engage my own zipper usually within two minutes or so. Making progress here!

Adapting to vision loss

Adapting is loosely defined as changing to meet changing conditions. Human beings are said to be the most adaptable species in the world. We live in the desert, on the ice and everywhere in between. When it comes to adapting, humans have the right stuff.

Learning to do things differently

The type of adapting I am referring to with the plugs and the zippers is basically learning. Living with a disability, we often find ways around it. We learn to do things differently. We start to depend on input from other senses to accomplish what we need to accomplish.

Physical adaptations to visual impairment

After that, we have physical adaptations. My life is full of physical adaptations and “workarounds.” I am looking at some reference materials for this piece on my electronic magnifier, a CCTV. Tomorrow I have transportation to a medical appointment. Today I had transportation to yoga. One of my physical adaptations is getting rides from others.

Phychological adjustment to vision loss

The last and possibly the most important type of adaptation to vision loss - or any loss for that matter - is psychological adaptation. How do we ensure the best possible adaptive outcomes for people who are losing their sight?

Back in 2016, Yukihiko Ueda wrote an open-access book chapter on Psychosocial Adaptation to Visual Impairment. He found that those who had the best psychological adjustment to vision loss had maintained independence, were mostly mobile, and continued with home and community activities. They also had a successful work history. Those who made a poorer adjustment were dependent, including mobility dependent, engaged in limited home and community activities, and had a limited work history. Factors like intelligence and manual dexterity predicted exactly what you think they would predict. High scores meant better adjustment to vision loss.

In short, success breeds success. If you want to be successful as a well-adjusted VIP, maybe you should have started 40 years ago!

Success as a visually impaired person

But what about being a successfully adapted VIP if you are just starting now? What can be done?

Some of those factors already mentioned can be turned around. Independence can be increased through both learning cool, “blind tricks” (for example, I am now able to zip my coat in...gasp!...the dark!) and learning how to use technology and other assistive devices. We can sign up for subsidized transportation and then use that transport to get out in the community. The idea is basically to hold your head up, get out there, and make it happen.

There is a lot more to successful adaptation to vision loss, but if you start with those few things, I think it will be good. Remember, it is all just a matter of adaptation.

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