Vision is a noun with two important definitions for our aging in place services businesses, but we are interested in the second application here – how someone physically uses their eyes, optic nerves, and brains to see.
The first application is the long-term view, concept, or nature of our business that we formulate to express how we foresee our business developing and unfolding. It is the big picture that we use to set our objectives, goals, priorities and action plans. Our business model emanates from our vision as we move from a more global depiction of what we want to deliver to the marketplace to a more specific one on how we can deliver our services effectively and profitably.
For the first definition of vision pertaining to our sight and how we use it, vision can be an important aspect of staying safe in our homes. It allows us to see objects that we might encounter in our pathway (at any height from floor level to several feet above the floor) so that we can avoid them and prevent injury to ourselves. It allows us to see when something might be loose or resting precariously on an edge of a piece of furniture, countertop, or cabinet and take the necessary precaution to avoid it. Our vision also enables us to distinguish between surfaces, changes in elevation (such as between two flooring surfaces or when lifting an item or sitting on an object) to remain safe from injury.
This is as it should be when our vision – with or without corrective lenses – functions as intended. But what about when it doesn’t work so well – through disease, a dysfunction, or aging? What about when we don’t see as we should? What then, and how does impact our ability to remain relatively safe in our homes?
Aging affects vision in several ways that are important for us to recognize as aging in place professionals. For someone normally mobile and exhibiting no physical characteristics that would lead us to believe they were anything other than someone without urgent needs, their vision difficulties might make it risky for them to navigate and use their living space. We need to be sensitive to instances when this occurs and respond accordingly. An occupational therapist can help us determine when vision issues are present and to what extent, even when the client calls this to our attention themselves.
There are many types of vision issues that could be present and several ways of accommodating them. As is true for most renovation projects – regardless of the client’s age but even more so with advancing years – safety is of paramount concern. When it comes to our vision, planning for safety requires more effort and consideration.
There are some aging issues that are going to reduce normal vision – even with corrective lenses – and make safe navigation through the home (not to mention venturing outside the home and remaining safe) more challenging. This includes AMD (age-related macular degeneration) and cataracts. Both affect the central field or core of vision, making it harder to see and recognize objects in front of us. Those objects are either blurred or nearly non-present. Increased lighting (more of it through additional fixtures and higher lumens) is one of the first steps toward helping to offset some of the effects of these conditions.
Depth-perception – differentiating items and recognizing their apparent distance from one another or from the observer – may be a lifelong challenge for some people. As we age and begin wearing reading glasses or using bifocal, trifocal, or progressive corrective lenses, misjudging how close the flooring is when we go to take a step, ascending or descending steps successfully, using bathroom facilities (toilet and tub or shower, for example), sitting on a chair or the edge of the bed, and walking across the floor when the surfaces change can be more challenging. Falls and stumbles can result. Again, increasing lighting and being sensitive to low contrast situations can help.
Visual confusion is another situation that often is present in homes that create safety concerns. There might be bold patterns, dark colors mixed with very light ones, similar hues, mirrors, foils, or other reflective surfaces, large objects (furniture or accessories), furniture groupings too tight to allow safe movement within the space, and designs that are large or suggestive of movement.
Our clients need to be able to get around safely in their living environment without risking a fall, stumble, or contact with hard, rough, or sharp objects. Some of them are going to relatively good vision, some are going to have challenges (including conditions that appear with aging), and some may be visually challenged with little or no eyesight. Adding much more lighting in the home and being very diligent about furniture size and placement, flooring type and color, and accounting for other potential obstacles in the living space are actions we can take to help our clients.