Aging In Place

11/22/2023 | By Donna Brody

Older adults who develop vision issues with age often have difficulty continuing their daily activities and maintaining independence. Donna Brody shares helpful visual impairment coping strategies that have helped her family members adjust.

Our family is learning the reality of living with visual impairments. Both my mother-in-law and a grandson are now considered legally blind. To help them both, our families have applied useful strategies and home adaptations.

My mother-in-law, who turns 90 in early 2024, has been coping with worsening glaucoma for many years. “Glaucoma is a general term used to describe a group of eye disorders that damage your optic nerve, leading to vision loss,” says the Cleveland Clinic. “Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world.”

Two years ago our grandson, now 5, was diagnosed with Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI). “CVI is a neurological issue, where the brain has trouble processing what the eyes can see,” write Rachel Bennett and Kara Baskin of the Perkins School for the Blind. “People with CVI struggle with visual attention and recognition. Some see the world as distorted and unrecognizable.” CVI is the leading cause of childhood blindness and low vision.

Although CVI is usually discovered when children are young, glaucoma and other visual impairments like presbyopia, macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetes-related retinopathy, and others become more prevalent as we age. Their onset can leave us struggling to continue our daily activities and maintain independence, but coping strategies and adaptations can help.

Even short of total blindness, vision issues can make daily tasks challenging. These strategies and modifications can help.

Visual impairment coping strategies


Most adults find that, as they age, adding light to an area can improve their ability to see. Install more lighting where it’s helpful, like under kitchen cabinets or in hallways. Keep in mind, though, with some optical conditions, low light may actually be better, so ask the person what works best.


Because our grandson has a hard time distinguishing stair steps or thresholds, we placed yellow or red colored tape on each step or elevated area to differentiate levels. My mother-in-law noted individual carpeted stair treads (not wall-to-wall carpeting) made it easier for her to navigate our stairs.

Another tip is to use contrasting colors, like a dark-colored placemat under a white plate, or putting small light-colored objects, like toiletries and cleaning tools, in bright-colored containers. Place a dark bathmat on a light colored floor or vice versa.

De-cluttering and consistency

Side view of a man with a vision test chart behind him. For article on visual impairment coping strategies.

Clutter is a tripping hazard for any older person, and especially for the visually impaired. Keeping things in consistent places is very important. I have watched my grandson “map” a new location using his cane or feeling his way around to figure out where things are located. In our home, he knows which drawer holds the puzzles and where couches, tables, and chairs are placed. So does my mother-in-law.

Don’t make any changes to their home’s layout without specifically asking permission from the visually impaired person.

Bump dots and labels

For low vision adults whose appliances use push button controls like microwave ovens, coffee makers, and blenders, a sticker with a raised dot on the most-used setting make it easier to operate. Remember, the person is relying on touch, so keep appliances on low shelves that are easily accessible.

Label drawers, pantry items, and other objects with supersize letters. Get thermostats, blood pressure cuffs, clocks, TV remotes, and other such items with large-letter displays.

Canes and walkers

Although there may be some resistance at first, encourage the person to keep a cane or walker handy. My grandson uses his cane to “sweep” the path to search for obstacles when in new places.

Related: Home modifications for Parkinson’s patients


New technologies help with initiating visual impairment coping strategies. Some computer and cell phone applications can read email and text messages aloud and offer the opportunity to reply using voice commands. Hands-free speakers like Alexa and Echo provide music and information on the spot, and audiobooks make the latest titles and many other books accessible.

My mother-in-law uses a video magnifier on her desktop computer that allows her to use all the normal functions on her device. Color settings enhance the screen. She also purchased stickers for her keyboard that are large print and contrasting color (white on black or black on white) to allow for easier typing.

Safety devices

When living independently, safety concerns loom large. Medical alert system can alert a loved one and emergency personnel in case of accidents or falls. Cell phone apps and other technologies allow family members to know the whereabouts or activity of their loved one.

Aging can throw all sorts of curve balls our way, but careful modifications can often help compensate for the inconvenient changes.

Donna Brody

Donna Brody is a former community college English instructor who retired to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She enjoys freelance writing and has self published three romance novels. Besides writing and traveling with her husband, she keeps busy visiting her seven grandchildren.

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