10 eye care (& more) tips for caregivers of the elderly
As a caregiver, there are a few things you can do for the elderly as well as for yourself.
BY: Benita Fong
Caregiving can be both challenging as well as rewarding. Here are some tips to care for the eyes of your loved one as well as some additional tips to care for yourself:
1. Open communication with the elderly – If it’s possible, caregivers should keep their loved ones involved in the discussion about their eye care. Find out what he or she thinks. Does he or she want to keep driving? Does he or she want to be able to read often? Things might go more smoothly if you have an open dialogue and conversation rather than just imposing rules.
2. Get glasses checked regularly – The elderly are like everyone else who occasionally sits on, sleeps on, loses and occasionally may step on their eyeglasses. Only you know your loved one’s tendencies and history with the care of eyeglasses and personal belongings. It may be worthwhile to select twistable, bendable, near-indestructible eyeglasses. Look for eyewear in terms of their durability, anti-reflective coating and lenses that are scratch-resistant.
Tip A: Try “new” glasses in the previous/old shape and size or have new frames in old designs with the new degree change. Always have spare glasses on standby too.
Tip B: Consider accessories like a string or fashionable attachments for glasses to wear around the neck so that the elderly don’t lose them or forget where they put them.
3. Make use of reading tools – Use magnifiers with in-built lights and supplement room lighting when indoors. Dimmers and candlelit rooms may be romantic but declining vision is better served by having brighter lighting.
4. Protect your eyes from excessive bright light – Use sunglasses when outdoors. Protect eyes from excess strain from the bright, blazing sunlight. Sunglasses may prevent unnecessary formation of free radicals and protect the macula from long-term damage. Make careful consideration to sunglass lens’ selection if the elderly decides to go with automatically adjusting light-sensitive lenses called photochromic lenses.
5. Prepare a nutritious meal – Consume a nutritious diet containing lots of brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables, especially those with vitamins like Omega-3 (salmon, soy and walnuts) and vitamin A (carrots and dark leafy vegetables), as they will keep your eyes healthy. Ensure a proper eating routine as well as a balanced meal.
6. Embrace technology – Computers and mobile phones with big keypads, screens and fonts can enhance assisted living. Invest in technology like large-screen computers/TV. iPads and tablets have a large selection of enlarged font sizes and brighter screens, and computer programmes or websites have enlarged fonts, readers, touchscreen technology and voice activation functions.
7. Prepare for medical emergencies – Use a medical alert system like monitors, security webcams or auto-dial phones and emergency call buttons to give you peace of mind of your loved one’s safety when he or she is alone or unaccompanied.
Tip A: In cases of emergency hospitalisation, have a medicine/tablet list ready for doctors to check. A sample of an e-pill weekly medication list/kit is available for free download.
Tip B: Use several pill boxes to organise and keep track of medication and tablets. Avoid contact lens as they have several steps for cleaning/handling and the elderly may be forgetful and in turn, may lead to high risk of infection when they forget especially the hours of contact lens wear. Also useful to have are ID wristbands with allergy and contact details if the elderly gets lost or even a Safe Return Card in their wallet.
8. Go for regular eye examinations – Eye examinations once a year should be part of routine healthcare for all seniors. Look for a doctor with patience and experience with the elderly and who can understand their needs as well as their family’s needs.
Question to consider – how to make the elderly accept medical treatment and go for medical examinations, especially if they refuse medical care? Barring medical emergencies, refusal to go to the doctor is best handled creatively. What works one time may not work in other circumstances. Keep on thinking and trying. It doesn’t hurt to keep your fingers crossed. In addition to keeping a sense of humour, the following approaches have proven successful in the role of diffusing the tension for the elderly who refuses to go to the doctor.
There are a number of triggers to show the “not going to the doctor” sentiments – chronic pain, stress, physical and/or mental exhaustion, and/or uncertainty and anxiety over their health and basic fear of the unknown are on the short list. Try to ascertain what are their concerns.
Some simple caregiver techniques:
i) Seek peer support. Or seek another senior or good friend, be it a spouse, relative or social group member who could advise, or someone who could convince them to go for eye operations or annual checkups.
If you’re doing a lot of extra driving to accommodate your loved one, remember that you’re not alone – there are plenty of other people doing the same thing. See if you can contact other caregivers for support and share some of the responsibilities with other family members so you don’t get burned out.
ii) Seek understanding from other siblings, neighbours as well as friends. Hospitals, senior centres and adult daycare centres often provide free transportation for elderly to and from the home. Don’t be afraid to ask around. Another option you can consider is carpooling.
iii) Evaluate public transportation. Many regions have buses with hydraulic lifts that help those with walkers and wheelchairs. However, if a loved one isn’t used to taking the bus, a caregiver might want to take the trip with him or her a few times so he or she gets the hang of it.
iv) List down transportation options and keep it by the phone. Include the names and numbers of any friends, neighbours, other caregivers, shuttle services, and cab companies. Programme on speed-dial the important numbers.
v) Join caregiver support groups so you can be with like-minded people and who can listen.
vi) Arrive early for medical appointments. The elderly may move slowly. If you’re going to take your loved one to a doctor’s appointment, give a buffer time of 30 minutes or more from the time you arrive at your destination so you can prepare for anything that might arise.
9. Allow time for recreation – Be patient with the elderly; make them feel loved. Give them time to interact with friends, neighbours and old acquaintances. Introduce playtime with pets, computer games, and sports and exercise activities such as interactive games like Wii, board games, tai chi and chair yoga. Sports and regular exercises have social, physical and therapeutic effect.
Tip A: When the elderly get angry at their limitations and disabilities, and bemoan their present state, as hard as it is, placate them and make them think of how worthy their lives are and what they mean to their loved ones. They may have fears of the unknown, depression as well as anxiety or panic attacks. Regular exercise and a routine social programme may alleviate these concerns.
Tip B: Enjoy their old stories again. The stories will always be the same ones from 20, 30 or 40 years ago. Just listen, nod and smile as if you have heard them for the first time. Encouragement and soft words are all that’s needed if or when that day of increasingly diminishing eyesight comes for any of us.
10. Take care of yourself – Caregivers should remember to have enough time for sufficient rest and time to relax. Don’t neglect your own personal well-being. Make time for yourself and have your own recreation, be it a trip to the movies, sports activities or timeout at a park which is a great place for relaxing as the sights and sounds of nature can have a calming effect. A healthy, happy caregiver leads to a happy, healthy elderly!
In conclusion, clear vision and keen sight is a crucial aspect that provides a good quality of life for our elderly. As you take care of the elderly, always remember to stay positive and keep trying. You may also seek help from friends as well as support groups. You are not alone. Soldier on.
Benita Fong is a clinic staff at EyeWise Vision Clinic.