Did you know that by age 70, fewer than 30 percent of
elderly people have 20/20 vision?
Normal age-related visual impairments such as macular
degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma can impact
day-to-day functioning. They can affect our ability to
drive, read prescription bottles, safely maneuver an
uneven sidewalk, or recognize a friend at church.
Visual impairments can also affect our ability to
communicate effectively with others. We observe our
partners to see if they “get” what we are saying when we
talk to them. Consider the visual clues that we look for
during a conversation:
- Facial cues, which indicate mood or emotion
- Hand gestures, which can indicate size or direction
- Turn-taking cues, including raised eyebrows
- Feedback, such as head nodding
These types of non-verbal messages may be lost or
misunderstood by people with poor vision. Both people in
the conversation are then prone to misinterpretation.
Imagine not being able to see someone roll his eyes when
making a sarcastic remark. You might think that he is
rude and he might think that you don’t have a sense of
Here are some simple things you can do when talking to
someone who has visual impairments:
- Identify yourself when going to visit. “Hi Grandma. It’s
- Describe what you mean with words in addition to hand
gestures. “The fish was two feet long.”
- Sit in a well-lit area, but avoid sitting directly in
front of bright windows or standing in doorways. This
“backlighting” causes a silhouette effect and people
cannot see your face clearly.
- Eliminate distracting background noise. When someone has
poor vision, he may rely more on his sense of hearing to
make up for the loss.
- Use bright table or floor lamps whenever possible and
ensure cords are out of the way to avoid falls. Overhead
fluorescent lighting causes glare on linoleum and
- Install nightlights in hallways, the bedroom and
- Offer your arm for support when you are out together and
tell him or her about upcoming curbs or stairs.
These tips can help keep your loved ones involved in
meaningful conversations and ensure their safety at
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