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What you need to know about visual impairment
Are you caring for a child, an adult or an elderly person with a visual impairment?
Here you’ll find information on the four main eye diseases. Also, find tips on how to access the services best suited to your needs, how to help without becoming burnt out, and how to maintain a good relationship with the person you care for who suffers from visual impairment.
What do I need to know about visual impairment?
Visual impairment refers to a variety of disorders. These can be refractive disorders such as myopia, but also eye diseases: eight million people in Canada suffer from one of the four major eye diseases.
Children, adults and seniors can all be affected:
- As the population ages, the number of people affected by visual impairment increases significantly, as do the risks associated with age;
- Visual problems have consequences for social life and implications for day-to-day activities, further amplified by the lack of adaptation of the environment in which these people live;
- In Québec, there are over 100,000 people suffering from total blindness or mild to severe visual impairment, the vast majority of whom live below the poverty line, according to the Quebec Foundation for the Blind;
- For you, as a caregiver, the repercussions are numerous and are accentuated by the demands of the healthcare network; there are often delays involved in seeing an optometrist, obtaining a white cane or adapted software. Many issues can affect your own quality of life.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
Chronic, progressive disease of the central area of the retina called the macula. The disease appears after age 50. At an advanced stage, the person can no longer see in the centre of the field of vision
Partial or total opacification of the crystalline lens, resulting in blurred vision.
It is the leading cause of blindness
Chronic eye disease caused by high intraocular pressure. The visual field is progressively reduced
Vascularization of the retina, leading to sudden loss of vision (retinal detachment). A frequent and insidious complication associated with diabetes
Visual impairment, a physical disability
Visual impairment is a physical disability. There are key resources available to help you:
Diagnosis and treatment
To help maintain optimal eye health, the Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends an eye exam every two years for adults under 65, and every year for people aged 65 and over. Children should have their first eye exam at 6 to 9 months of age, and an annual exam when they reach school age.
- Diagnosis involves a complete eye examination. It’s not just about assessing your vision. It can also identify symptoms of diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, brain tumours, multiple sclerosis or cancer;
- Treatment depends on the nature and origin of the vision problem. While simple correction with corrective lenses (glasses) or contact lenses can correct certain visual disorders, treatment with corticosteroids may be useful in other cases. Surgical treatment may also be necessary, for cataracts, for example.
Questions and possible solutions
I do a lot of things for my brother. We know this isn’t ideal, either for him or for me. How can we change this?
Yes, you want to help your brother as best you can, avoid falls or simply go faster. That’s perfectly understandable. Why not have a chat with your brother about it? He’ll probably come up with some ideas for making changes! The Institut Nazareth et Louis-Braille offers a podcast on this topic: as caregivers, are we doing too much or too little? Why not listen to it together?
I’m working hard to help my mom become more independent at home. She has difficulty using her new washing machine: she can’t feel all the buttons…
Your mom is far from alone. The Regroupement des aveugles et des amblyopes du Québec fights for the rights of visually impaired people and promotes, from an inclusive perspective, the application of universal accessibility principles, right from the design stage of products and services. Among other things, this includes the accessibility of household appliances!
I am a caregiver for my 83-year-old father. He has cataracts and has also been severely hard of hearing for several years. I’m thinking of a guide dog to support him; he loves dogs! Are there guide dogs trained to help with sight as well as hearing issues?
Yes, dogs can help people with both visual and hearing impairments. You can obtain more information from Lions Foundation of Canada, Mira or the CNIB. Guide dogs are welcome everywhere; it’s the law, as this 60-second CNIB video demonstrates. These practical tips on hearing impairment may be of help to you.
My mother is slightly visually impaired. She’s very (very!) concerned about her independence, especially when it comes to getting to appointments. I find it hard to draw a line between her independence and her safety. Do you have any tips?
You may be able to meet with an orientation and mobility specialist at a rehabilitation centre; contact the ID-ASD-PD access desk in your area. The Institut Nazareth et Louis-Braille has also produced this guide written in French.
Like you, nearly two thirds of caregivers are primarily responsible for looking after a senior. Find out which services are right for your needs, so you can help while taking care of yourself, and maintain a good relationship with the person you’re caring for.
Need to talk?
Contact our Caregiver Support Helpline for counselling, information et referrals.
Every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Free of charge.