PRISM – January 2012

In This Issue

Support: The Key to Successfully Dealing with Vision Loss

An often overlooked aspect of dealing with the onset of vision loss is the mental and emotional adjustment some people go through when they find out that their eyesight is diminishing. As a result, episodes of depression are common. A five-year study conducted by Lighthouse International looked at the relationships between vision loss, depression and vision rehabilitation. It found that vision related depression is a result of the impact that vision loss has on everyday functioning, rather than the actual severity of vision loss.

Dealing with vision loss can be very difficult to sort through. Open communication about fears surrounding visual loss is commonly avoided because it can be initially traumatic for diagnosed individuals, friends and families. Acknowledging and eventually coming to terms with the full extent of impact that vision loss can have on daily life is a difficult process, but one that will ultimately prove vital to health and quality of life.

Fear is a very common reaction to vision loss. Such a diagnosis implies a potentially deteriorating condition, long-term adjustments, and decreased independence. It is absolutely reasonable to fear disability and the unknowns of an illness! For many people, the greatest fear of all is the idea of losing control over their lives. These issues are simply not easy to work through.

Vision loss can be life-changing, and it may bring an overwhelming sense of internal pain, grief, and mourning to those facing it. It is important to realize that there are different stages of dealing with a serious loss of any kind–denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—which make up a psychological framework to process the loss and help people continue to find meaning in their lives. Having a strong social support system is critical to finding hope and beginning to build confidence anew.

The Stages:

Denial and Anger
Denial and anger seem to go hand-in-hand and are normal reactions when an initial diagnosis of vision loss is made. A typical first reaction to a diagnosis of vision loss is to deny the reality of the situation and rationalize overwhelming emotions. While it can buffer the immediate shock, the denial stage can also be a positive coping strategy, allowing time to ease into acceptance.

It is also not uncommon for the visually impaired to experience strong feelings of anger—at the loss of vision, and having to give up favorite activities; anger at family, friends and the need for greater dependence on others; anger at doctors for the inability to restore their sight. Anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family, as well as at the self. Guilty feelings may provoke feelings of anger, too. Remember though, learning to accommodate such a huge change is a personal and individual process that has no set time limit, nor any one right way to do it.

Bargaining
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control. Bargaining is an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay the vision loss. Psychologically, the individual is saying, “I understand I will lose my sight, but if I could just do something to buy more time…”

Depression
Mourning is a common reaction to the practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret dominate this type of depression. Worry may be eased through simple clarification and reassurances. Depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is a preparation to separate and bid farewell to a life once experienced through a combination of our senses that at one time included vision. This is where caring support from others becomes imperative to maintaining a healthy sense of self and defending against isolative tendencies.

A sense of frustration is common when dealing with vision loss. Frustration may often feel like a constant new companion! Figuring out how to accommodate the many changes needed to accomplish usual daily tasks can be challenging, to say the least. But moving forward by learning about available options for treatment and rehabilitation, and devices to adapt to vision and environmental changes can actually help patients cope with their disease and their emotions.

Acceptance
It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny oneself the opportunity to make peace. Acceptance allows completion of the cycle of grieving vision loss. Experiencing a deep sense of frustration is common when dealing with vision loss. Frustration may often feel like a constant new companion! Figuring out how to accommodate the many changes needed to accomplish usual daily tasks can be challenging, to say the least. But moving forward by learning about available options for treatment and rehabilitation, and devices to adapt to vision and environmental changes can actually help with coping with the disease and emotions. Reaching a sense of acceptance takes time, and often there are many starts and stops along the way. Once again, the process is different for everyone.

For Caregivers
The importance of family and friends in adjusting to vision loss simply cannot be underestimated. Just as vision loss affects the self-identity of an individual so, too, it affects others as roles and responsibilities shift. Spouses or children, unprepared for the role of caregiver, may find themselves thrust into a position of supportive authority. At the same time, it is important for family and caregivers to avoid being overprotective, and to allow the person facing the diagnosis to maintain as much independence and dignity as possible.

Talking with family and friends can bring reassurance to all parties impacted by the diagnosis. In addition, the mutual support of others experiencing vision loss can be a great source of comfort, providing a connection in an experience that can feel isolating. A peer network can be supportive, fun and powerfully healing. Although everyone’s personal experience of vision loss will be unique, many others have had similar feelings and experiences. Finding the humor in dealing with vision loss is best done with others who have walked in your shoes.

If you or a family member have recently been diagnosed with vision loss you may need help building a network of people with whom you can share your concerns, questions, and feelings. In addition to seeking treatment and rehabilitation, emotional support is crucial. Some people worry that asking for emotional support is a sign of weakness, as if they are somehow expected to “be strong” and handle the situation on their own. However, you don’t have to be alone to be strong. Allowing and asking for support is one way you can take control of your situation.

Read more in our information series:

For more information on SightConnection’s programs and services, please visit our website at www.sightconnection.org, or call (206) 525-5556; toll free at 1-800-458-4888. Or, if you are interested in finding products and devices designed especially those with low vision, check out our retail online store at www.sightconnection.com. For more information contact us at egreer@sightconnection.org.

Client Story: Jack Gobel: A Positive Attitude

Jack Gobel is a man who has always stuck to his conviction that “A positive attitude makes a BIG difference in life!” So when Jack found himself on the difficult end of a macular degeneration diagnosis in 2006, he found he was able to roll with the challenges that came with it, taking action sooner rather than later to deal with his emerging vision loss. His commitment to and love of family, fishing and service to his community all helped strengthen his resolve along the way.

Jack was, and still is, an avid fisherman with a reputation for being brilliant at tying flies. He grew up in California and starting fishing as a child alongside his father, who also loved to fish. At the age of six he caught his first fish all by himself, a beautiful rainbow trout pulled from the Humboldt River. Fishing began to become his passion. He would go on to work for the California Game Commission tagging salmon, and learning how important it is to care for the resource.

Later, he married, raised a family and worked for many years in Northern California as an engineer in the telecommunications industry, briefly accepting an assignment with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in the Christmas Islands, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean. He and his wife operated a thriving Tupperware distributorship during these years too, and in 1974 they relocated to Everett, Washington.

Over the years, Jack continued to pursue sport fishing, polishing his skills and building a deep knowledge of species, habitat, techniques and conservation. Eventually he travelled to such places as Oregon, British Columbia, and Alaska, where he pursued giant rainbow trout in the state’s largest lake, Lake Iliamna. He also returned several times to the Christmas Islands where he took giant Travelli fish, yellow fin and wahoo tuna—all on fly rods!

But after years of discovering the wonderful abundance of Washington rivers, lakes and saltwater, and sharing his fishing know-how through membership in the Evergreen Fly Fishing Club in Everett, Jack was suddenly faced with blurry vision. He immediately had his vision checked and was down-hearted to learn he had developed macular degeneration in his right eye at the age of 74. He was still a very active outdoorsman.

“I was blessed after my initial diagnosis,” he says. After excellent care from his retinologist, including eye injection treatments, Jack had “a year and a half of no further treatments—amazingly, my vision stabilized.” He was able to continue to go fishing with friends and family, and found that the effort of maintaining a positive outlook despite his physical challenges allowed him to continue doing what he loved. But then, he once again experienced the disheartening and now familiar blurry vision in his left eye.

“My eye doctor found that my left eye had started leaking blood, just like what had happened to my right eye. It was not a good day!” He was very worried that this might be the end of his active days.

Fast forward to a new doctor, who told him about SightConnection.

Jack says he was “astounded” when he found out about all the programs, services, training and tools available through the SightConnection organization and retail store. He only wished he had found the organization sooner: “SightConnection has been, and remains, the single most important, go-to tool I have in dealing with my vision loss. When it came to overcoming the seeming limits of my vision loss, the sheer variety of tools they made available to help me was overwhelming, and the training I received, like orientation skills and working with professional strength magnifiers, was unbeatable!”

Jack welcomed SightConnection direct services staff into his home where they were able to demonstrate such tools as a cell phone marked for tactile use, and magnifiers that allow him to continue to work on tying flies. He is also an avid reader and has been greatly relieved to find ways to utilize his remaining vision.

“Now, I tell anyone and everyone about SightConnection—especially if they haven’t heard of it. This organization is a tremendous asset to the low vision community, which I am also proud to donate to—and to solicit others to do the same.” Thanks, Jack!

Jack continues to go fishing weekly with buddies up on Whidbey Island, he remains active in his fly fishing club and remains involved with local fish and habitat conservation efforts. He doesn’t focus on his “can’ts,” he says, he focuses on his “cans.” Now that’s a role model for a good attitude!

For more information on SightConnection’s programs, products or services contact Eden Greer at egreer@sightconnection.org or Donate Now!

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month

Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness. Glaucoma is called “the sneak thief of sight” since there are no symptoms, and once vision is lost, it’s permanent. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, as much as 40% of vision can be lost without a person even noticing!

What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steal sight without warning. Although the most common forms primarily affect the middle-aged and the elderly, glaucoma can affect people of all ages. In glaucoma, vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve. This nerve acts like an electric cable with over a million wires. It is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain.

Vision loss caused by glaucoma begins with peripheral or side vision, so if you have glaucoma, you may not notice anything until significant vision is lost. The best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to get a comprehensive eye examination. Then, if you have glaucoma, treatment can begin immediately.

Are You At Risk of Glaucoma?
Those at higher risk include people of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent. Other high-risk groups include: people over 60, family members of those already diagnosed, diabetics, and people who are severely nearsighted. Regular eye exams are especially important for those at higher risk for glaucoma, and may help to prevent unnecessary vision loss.

There is no cure for glaucoma currently. However, medication or surgery can slow or prevent further vision loss. The appropriate treatment depends upon the type of glaucoma among other factors. Early detection is vital to stopping the progression of the disease.

Prevention
Regular, dilated eye exams are the best form of prevention against significant glaucoma damage. Early detection and careful, lifelong treatment can maintain vision in most people. In general, a check for glaucoma should be done:

  • before age 40, every two to four years
  • from age 40 to age 54, every one to three years
  • from age 55 to 64, every one to two years
  • after age 65, every six to 12 months

Anyone with high risk factors should be tested every year or two after age 35. Those at higher risk include people of African descent, people with diabetes, and people with a family history of glaucoma. You are at increased risk if you have a parent or brother or sister with glaucoma.

Benefits of Exercise
A recent study by the University College London Institute of Ophthalmology examined the relationship between physical activity and low ocular perfusion pressure (a risk factor for glaucoma). The results showed that moderate physical exercise over a 15-year period was associated with a 25 percent reduced risk in developing glaucoma.

This also emphasizes how a regular program of moderate exercise, such as walking or jogging three or more times every week, can provide both health benefits and preventative effects against the development of glaucoma. But remember, the benefits from exercise last only as long as you continue exercising– this is why moderate exercise on a routine basis is most recommended. Talk with your doctor if you have specific questions or concerns about starting an exercise program.

Protect your Eyes
Don’t forget that wearing protective eyewear is important when engaged in sports activities or home improvement projects. Eye injuries can result in traumatic glaucoma or secondary glaucoma, so protecting your eyes from injury is another way to prevent glaucoma.

Additional protection comes from eating a balanced diet and treating high blood pressure, so be sure to include nutritious foods and regular medical checkups in your lifestyle.

View our information sheet on Glaucoma.

SightConnection: Accomplishments and Reflections for 2011

As we ring out the old year here at SightConnection, we’d like to share some reflections, and an overview of our efforts to better serve the regional low vision community. The past year found us busier than ever!

2011 brought a major development in the history of our organization as we changed our name from Community Services for the Blind and Partially Sighted to SightConnection. A more concise and approachable image is our aim as we continue to provide a wide variety of low vision services and products.

We currently serve approximately 1400 clients annually at our low vision clinic and through home visits made by our direct services staff throughout King and Snohomish counties. We also continue to serve more remote and rural communities through our low vision clinics in King, Snohomish and Skagit counties.

The past year saw us continuing to do educational outreach in order to promote the visibility of SightConnection with assisted-living and retirement-living communities, and a wide variety of community organizations. Educating the public about the availability of our vision rehabilitation services helps to enlighten people about the growing need for such services and programs in the region. Education empowers people, drives referrals and provides needed momentum (often by word of mouth) so that we can continue to successfully connect with more people in need. Our outreach efforts have also benefitted from the success of our online retail site, www.sightconnection.com, with people around the world now able to learn about our products online.

We strive to put on community events to help spread the word about visual health and advances in research and technology through our website, Twitter, Facebook and our monthly e-newsletter PRISM.

We hosted our second annual educational event called Insight: A Low Vision Expo in the spring in Lynnwood (save the date for this year’s event Saturday June 9th!). Our keynote speakers on visual nutrition and regenerative medicine were a big hit, as was our Technology Lab, and breakout sessions, for example, on Fall Prevention and Senior Driving.

In August 2011, due to overwhelming response to the Technology Lab at our Expo, we also held an Assistive Technology Fair at the Kent Community Center. This well-attended event proved to be another great opportunity for demonstrating adaptive technologies for the visually impaired on computers and other devices.

October 1st found us presenting our first-ever annual Share the Vision Walkathon at Magnuson Park. This new event represented a switch-over from our usual annual breakfast-fundraiser as we sought to engage even more people by taking our cause to the streets! With over 125 walkers and many more fundraising participants, we’re still climbing towards our final goal of $60,000.

These funds, and the many other contributions made over the past year are so appreciated by our organization and the many people living with low vision that this money helps us serve. We want to thank all the donors whose support has made our services possible in the regional community! We are sincerely grateful for all the help and goodwill you have shared with us, and our clients, in 2011 and we look forward to your continued support in the New Year. Thank you!

SightConnection Store: Stay Organized in 2012

Stay organized in 2012 with our best selling large print calendar! Ideal for people with low vision, this jumbo-size wall calendar begins with December 2011 and goes through December 2012 — a full 13 months for your convenience. It unfolds to 22″ x 17″ and features 1″ numbers in 2.25″ x 3.25″ squares. The calendar also lists major holidays and has room for writing in important appointments and social events. Stay independent this year by keeping track of the date and your appointments!

Visit our online store for more ways to stay organized this year!