105 Chauncy St. Suite 801, Boston, MA 02111 friend@fw4elders.org 617-482-1510

Tips for Working with Elders with Vision Loss

FriendshipWorks’ enduring mission is to end elder isolation and replace it with the warmth and comfort of caring and dedicated friends. In this vein, we are committed to addressing the myriad conditions that can precipitate an elder becoming socially isolated. While most of us have some visual changes as we age, for some elders this loss is life-altering and can lead to social isolation and loneliness. This is why FriendshipWorks has a special focus on addressing elder vision loss.

Vision loss can affect social interactions and safety, especially for elders living alone. While vision loss in elders is not all the same, it frequently affects mobility, reading, computer usage, cooking, safety, driving and other daily living skills. Here are ten tips from optometrist Dr. Cathy Stern, on how to provide assistance and support for someone experiencing vision loss:

  • When walking with someone with vision loss, offer your arm and have them hold your elbow so you will be a half-step ahead of them. This allows them to feel your movements and quickly adjust their gait or direction of movement in order to move forward safely.
  • If a home has stairs, place bright, contrasting tape on each stair edge or paint a stripe on the edges of wood stairs. This goes for stairs both inside and outside.
  • Avoid the use of throw rugs, entryway mats or floor clutter like shoes to minimize falls.
  • White bathtubs should have the middle third of the threshold painted a contrasting color to make getting in and out safer.
  • Control glare by providing cool white light centered over a task area, as too much light can be as much of a problem as too little light.
  • Label kitchen cabinet doors, drawers and countertop canisters with contrasting paper and a bold, sans-serif font to make identifying important food or cooking items easier.
  • Place light colored food such as white potatoes on a dark plate and place darker colored food such as green vegetables on a white place for higher contrast and easier identification.
  • Encourage use of a black felt tip pen and light yellow paper for writing reminders or notes.
  • Large-type playing cards or tactile versions of games will allow someone with vision loss to maintain social interaction and social contacts.
  • Always talk directly to the person with vision loss and do not talk around them by directing questions to a nearby relative or friend. Also don’t shout if a person has no significant hearing loss.

In order to raise awareness about elder vision loss and share available resources, we have partnered with Boston’s low vision experts to offer a free half-day forum on June 8, 2017 (to learn more click here).

*FriendshipWorks serves adults 55+ who experience vision or hearing loss. Click here to learn more about our programs or to volunteer.

Dr. Cathy D. Stern specializes in Behavioral Optometry, Vision Therapy, Developmental Optometry and Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation. To learn more about her services click here.

Low Vision: Open Your Eyes to the Problem

How many ways do we make reference to sight?

“I see” means agreement or understanding

“I was blindsided by what happened” when something happens quickly and unexpectedly

“From my point of view” asserts an opinion based on experience

For as often as sight is used as a metaphor, it is something we take for granted

And now imagine: slowly, you lose the ability to see. Suddenly your home becomes an obstacle course. And because you cannot drive or find your way to the bus stop, your home also becomes a prison. You lose contact with your community because you can’t get around and you cannot even dial the phone. The simple pleasures of life become out of reach, whether it is watching your favorite television show or reading a book. Taking medications is like a game of roulette. Even eating is an onerous task.

The risk of falls and fractures increases. There is a certainty of depression and anxiety as a full-fledged mental health issue. Social isolation looms. Your glasses don’t work anymore.  And it seems there are really few options. 

This scenario affects almost 10 million elders today. This number will increase substantially by 2030. And most of us are not aware of the risk our elder neighbors face.  

But there are life-saving and life-enhancing options.

On June 8, 2017, FriendshipWorks is co-presenting “Low Vision: Will You Know It When You See It”, a half-day forum for direct care providers on low vision in elders. The forum is initiated and coordinated by FriendshipWorks, in collaboration with The New England College of Optometry and The Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, The Massachusetts Association of the Blind and Visually-impaired, and Mass Eye and Ear Hospital.  Awareness and practical interventions will be offered by experts so the professionals who know elders best can identify low vision and encourage the best options to enhance elders’ well-being and quality of life. FriendshipWorks has specially produced a resource guide to connect elders with a range of low vision services that will be distributed at the forum.

Please join us for this enlightening and encouraging forum on low vision in elders!  You can register at http://www.fw4elders.org/low-vision-forum/  

PetPals’ Pawscars Party

PetPals team Afton (human) and Smooshy (dog) win The Too Too Cute Toto Award.

Walking down the red carpet with adoring crowds cheering is not just for Hollywood. In February the stars came out and the applause was loud at Rogerson House where elders and PetPals celebrated their version of the Oscars called the Pawscars.

Rogerson House, an assisted living residence in Jamaica Plain, was host to a celebration of the magic that happens when elders and PetPals get together. FriendshipWorks’ PetPals team Ellen Kirchheimer and Janet Hirsch acted as masters of ceremonies and party hosts extraordinaire.

The afternoon event began with each PetPal team strolling down the red carpet while being introduced with their special stories. The 10 dogs and one cat all took their bows with happily wagging tails. And we cannot forget our very own Allen the guinea pig making his star turn!

PetPals team Harrison and Laura (humans) and Henry (dog) win The Snoopy Sniffer Award.

Three Rogerson House residents served as judges in deciding who would win such prizes as “The Too Too Cute Toto Award,” and “The Rin Tin Tin Award” and the highly coveted “Scooby Doo Award.”

While the votes were being tabulated, all the nominees met their fans in the audience. The power of PetPals was in full force with the connection each pet made with their new elder friends. Needless to say, there was a lot of love in the room.

The celebration was capped with each pet receiving the ultimate achievement in PetPals: The Golden Dog statuette. And special certificates were awarded to Krowka the cat and Allen the guinea pig for their roles in bringing happiness to elders.


MusicWorks: Jamming to the Oldies


Photo credit: Joni Lohr

MusicWorks uses music as a way to bring elders and volunteers/friends together. Recently, Liz, an elder living in an assisted living home asked to be matched with a MusicWorks volunteer. She had moved from her longtime home within the last few months, having given up many of her beloved belongings. Liz missed her collection of music, and she was feeling homesick. She also was a little blue about not connecting with people who knew her as a person, not a patient or resident or even as an older person.

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Missing Piece Project: the Joy of Making a Difference


The Missing Piece Project, an initiative of our neighborhood office in Allston and Brighton, connects elders with lifetimes of amazing experience to opportunities with parts of the community that can benefit from their wisdom and kindness.

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