Ernest got a macular degeneration diagnosis when he was 80 years old, and by the time he was 83, he had nearly complete vision loss. Ernie was a World War II veteran who had received two serious injuries while serving, he was always greatly admired, because even though he lived with physical impairment his whole life due to these injuries, he never let them stop him. He had a long career as a parole officer, was an active member of the VFW, an active member of his church and an avid member of the Good Sam Club. He had taken up oil painting in his retirement years as well and had become an excellent painter. All of this changed with his vision loss.
The last eleven years of his life were spent in darkness, and his family, struggled with how to help him make the adjustment and how to keep meaning in his life while he was dealing with the loss of the taken-for-granted way of relating to and experiencing the world.
Simple things like dressing in matching clothing and pouring a cup of coffee without making a mess became huge topics of many heated debates Ernie’s family. Then there were the more difficult issues of getting Ernie to quit crossing the road to check his mail without making him feel he was losing his independence, and preventing him from mowing the lawn, after he nearly poked his eye out on a low hanging tree branch while mowing the lawn. Yes. Ernie still mowed the lawn. Blind. Every week. He did not want to be independent on anyone and losing his ability to do “normal” things made him feel useless. The stress on the family was immense, especially since they were all trying to act “normal” around him. After the lawn mowing incident, one family member, tired and stressed from dealing with this life-changing event, actually suggested that it didn’t matter if Ernie lost an eye mowing the lawn. Afterall, he was already blind. Things were crazy, and it was up to every member of his family to figure out how to make Ernie’s life safe AND meaningful, while helping him adjust to the limitations his blindness imposed.
Coping With Sudden Blindness
Here are some real-life tips that made Ernie’s food and eating life a bit better. Some of them may seem common sense, but when you are in the thick of a major life upset, like blindness, nothing seems to make sense.
- Ernie loved salt and pepper on almost everything, but he only liked using a little bit of salt on his food because he didn’t want to get high blood pressure. After over salting a meal and getting so frustrated that he threw his food away- something a post-depression era person never does- Ernie’s family put the salt and pepper into two completely different types of shakers so he could easily tell the difference. Because the pepper shakers come with less holes in their lids, they made sure to use the pepper lid on the salt shaker. Now, he could tell the shakers apart AND he would get less salt on his food.
- Ernie drank orange juice every morning. His wife would tell you that Ernie was not exactly a tidy man, but after he lost his vision, he would regularly leave pools of whatever beverage he was pouring all over the counter top. A simple fix was to have Ernie put his finger just over the edge of his glass as he poured. When he could feel the liquid, he stopped pouring.
- Go to restaurants was a challenge, first, because Ernie couldn’t read the menu and second, because the table set up was different than his table at home and third, because it’s just plain difficult to eat your food when you don’t know where your plate is. Deciding in advance, where you will be dining so you can look up a food menu while still at home is helpful. Ernie would feel rushed if we went out without doing this and he’d say, ‘Just order anything’, so he didn’t feel like he was holding everyone else up. His family wanted him to enjoy his meal, so they started looking up menus in advance and have full conversations about what each of them wanted to order.
- Whenever it was possible, they would call the restaurant in advance and ask them to not have any extra items on the table. Salt, pepper and silverware. That’s all that was needed. This helped enable them to orientate Ernie’s place at the table so it would be familiar, like home.
Asking the server to have the kitchen cut up his meat before it leaves the kitchen was also helpful. This avoided the struggle of cutting up food while feeling ‘on stage’.
There are many resources available to help your family and your loved one adjust to sudden vision loss, so you don’t have to go through this alone. If you need more help, please contact us and we will help to make the adjustment with in home care and tips that will suit your family.