In This Issue
- Healthy Vision Month
- Client Story: Ann Fagan
- Tips for Effective and Respectful Communication
- Charles Bonnet Syndrome
- SightConnection Store: Sunglasses
Healthy Vision Month
In 2003, the National Eye Institute first established May as Healthy Vision Month. Many eye diseases and conditions have no warning signs. Regular eye care is the best way to ensure early detection and timely treatment of eye disease and prevent vision loss and blindness.
The single most important thing that you can do to protect the health of your eyes and preserve your vision is to schedule a comprehensive dilated eye exam on a regular basis. A comprehensive exam includes the use of drops that dilate your pupils to allow a thorough evaluation of the health of your eyes. These drops allow your doctor to more easily and completely see into your eyes. Your eye doctor will determine the most appropriate schedule for this test.
In addition, there are other things that you can do to promote your eye health. Eye safety in the home and work place is very important. Use safety glasses whenever working with power tools and machinery. The National Eye Institute estimates that 90% of all workplace eye injuries could be prevented with proper eyewear. Discuss the use of safety eyewear with your eye care provider as well as your workplace safety officer.
Make sure to get a good family eye health history. Some eye diseases can be hereditary. It is most helpful to provide your health care provider with this information in order to determine if you are at greater risk for developing certain diseases.
In addition, eating a healthy diet can be very helpful in maintaining good eye health. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, has been shown to be beneficial in promoting eye health. Eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids has also been shown to have positive health benefits.
Being overweight and sedentary leads to a greater risk for diabetes, hypertension and other systemic diseases, which may lead to vision loss. Maintaining a healthy weight and participating in regular exercise are good ways to help reduce your chances of eye disease and to improve your overall health.
Smoking is a significant risk factor for macular degeneration, cataract formation and optic nerve disease. Cessation of smoking is as important for your vision as it is for your general health. Talk with your primary health care provider if you are having difficulty quitting.
Some research shows that exposure to ultraviolet radiation may speed the formation of cataracts and macular degeneration. It is recommended to wear sunglasses with UV-A and UV-B protection when outdoors.
Client Story: Ann Fagan
Ann Fagan has a warm and welcoming demeanor that bespeaks her upbringing in wheat farming country in the little town of Walla Walla, Washington. It has been said that to ‘become an interesting person, one must be interested,’ and that certainly reflects the world view of this interesting woman!
After college, where she majored in French language, Ann went on to study library sciences at Indiana University and start a career as a librarian. Her work as a high school librarian would eventually take her to Arizona where she developed a brand new media center for her school, and lived for eighteen years while raising her family. It was also there that she received a diagnosis in 1994 of retinitis pigmentosa, and began to form a long-range plan in her mind for the life changes that she knew were ahead of her due to her condition.
She says that she didn’t want to be “ousted” at work because of her diagnosis, and so she decided to keep her visual status to herself at that time. But she did begin to think about and plan for the adjustments she knew she was going to need in order to live the fully engaged lifestyle she had cultivated for herself.
A huge part of that plan was a return to her home of origin, the Pacific Northwest. She chose Seattle she says, because “I knew that eventually I wouldn’t be able to drive anymore, and the southwest is a place that relies on personal cars to get around in the big, wide open spaces. Seattle, though, has great public transportation and therefore access to arts, culture, restaurants and businesses. I would be able to stay as independent as possible and be near the places and things that matter to me.”
In 2005, her children raised and on their own, she made the move. And once in Seattle, she found SightConnection. She says she has never looked back, but “I don’t know what I would have done without SightConnection!”
Ann began working with SightConnection direct service staff in 2005 to learn orientation and mobility skills with a white cane. This enabled her to learn to navigate independently in the downtown Seattle business and arts corridor, along with using the bus routes around her neighborhood.
To meet her now, one might think these important skills came easy, but Ann worked very hard and relentlessly to build up her skills, utilizing the tips and techniques from her trainers, and putting in hours of practice. Her hearing loss, coupled with the noise of the city can make her ability to listen (important for safety) while crossing streets and navigating with traffic flow noise very difficult and frustrating at times. But she says “I came to mobility training with an open mind because I knew it would require a commitment to learn all the things I needed to learn. I had to keep my goals of independence in mind”.
She has developed what her trainer calls “Fantastic orientation skills to move about, and she can cross virtually any road on her own, simply using her cane and her hearing to tell her when it’s her turn to cross. She navigates all over downtown Seattle – no mean feat even WITH vision!” She has plenty of courage too!
Ann went on to receive training in independent living skills in her home, and assistive technology on the computer, too. In fact, she is thoroughly involved with technology, from utilizing talking atomic clocks, to learning JAWS Screen Reading Software on her computer, to preparing to tackle new iPhone technology.
Ann is active in the arts scene and enjoys attending Seattle Art Museum, concerts at Benaroya Hall, and audio plays at Seattle Rep. She gets out daily to her wellness center for exercise and walks in her neighborhood. She is interested in finding new tactile approaches to handicrafts such as crocheting, painting and playing the piano.
Ann is a shining example of how people without vision can get around independently, efficiently and safely. Ann has benefitted greatly from advanced trainings with SightConnection. She is determined to keep living life to its fullest: a great example for those clients who are at the beginning of their journey of living well with vision loss.
She talks about how many visually impaired people seem to be slow to adapt to using a white cane: “They should just go for it. The idea is to be marked, for safety’s sake, so you can do whatever you want to do to the best of your own ability. The immense confidence one gains in learning to be independent helps you stay healthy and engaged in having fun!” Ann should know—she doesn’t let her visual impairment keep from having a great time skiing, traveling or making art.
Tips for Effective and Respectful Communication
If you have a visually impaired friend, a relative with low vision, or encounter a blind stranger on the street, effective communication skills can foster a good experience for both of you. Here are some tips to help put both of you at ease.
- Speak with a normal voice when you are in front of them. This way a visually impaired person will know someone is speaking directly to them and will not be startled by your voice. Loss of eyesight does not mean loss of hearing.
- Address the person by name and introduce yourself as well as others who may be present.
- Let them know when you’ve entered or left a room or a conversation.
- Continue to use everyday language such as “see” or “look”.
- If a person appears lost they may be pausing to adjust to their environment. Ask first before offering help.
- Talk directly to them instead of through someone else.
- Let them touch a car door, chair or table so they can become oriented.
- Instead of gestures such as pointing fingers, accurate directions are most helpful by saying north, south, east, west, straight, right or left instead of saying “over there.”
- To help identify food on a plate you can use the “clock” system: potato at 12 o’clock, chicken at 3 o’clock and salad at 6 o’clock.
- If they accept an offer to help while walking, offer your elbow and walk about a half step ahead and bring attention to steps and curbs.
- Always ask before offering assistance.
With these tips in mind you will both be relaxed and have a respectful interaction.
View our information series for more information on visual impairment and helpful tips.
Charles Bonnet Syndrome
Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) or phantom vision is a side effect of vision loss and is experienced by 10 – 40 percent of individuals with vision loss. It is named after a Swiss naturalist Charles Bonnet who first documented it in 1769. Charles Bonnet’s grandfather, who was nearly blind from cataracts but mentally alert, saw birds, men, women, carriages, buildings, etc.
CBS is more likely to occur if a person has a visual acuity between 20/120 and 20/400. When Retinal cells become impaired, and are no longer able to receive and relay visual images to the brain, or when any other element of the visual system ceases to function optimally, the system begins firing off images on its own. People with CBS experience a broad spectrum of hallucinations: complex colored patterns, people, animals, plants, trees and inanimate objects. One of my first clients stated she saw stained glass windows. She said it was fine when she was looking at a wall, but disconcerting when the image covered the face of the person she was talking to.
There is no way to tell who will experience CBS, what they will see and how long they will have CBS. The hallucinations generally disappear within a year to 18 months – varies from person to person. People experience CBS for a few days up to several years and the hallucinations can last from seconds up to most of the day. Changing your body position, closing your eyes or blinking will sometimes stop the hallucinations. Also, individuals are better able to deal with CBS if they know that they are suffering this syndrome – not a mental illness.
To separate CBI from visual hallucinations experienced by people with normal vision who see things they believe to be real, you can use the following six criteria to determine if you are experiencing phantom vision:
Do the images that appear to you have the following six characteristics?
- They occur when you are fully conscious and wide awake, often during broad daylight.
- They do not deceive you; you are aware that they are not real.
- They occur in combination with normal perception. For example, you may see a sidewalk clearly, but find it covered with dots, flowers, or faces.
- They are exclusively visual and do not appear in combination with any sounds or bizarre sensations.
- They appear and disappear without obvious cause.
- They are amusing or annoying but not scary.
Images seen by individuals are almost always pretty or lighthearted and many people find them amusing or enjoyable. If the images you experience leave you frustrated or anxious you should discuss them with your doctor.
More information on Charles Bonnet Syndrome is available online and in “Macular Degeneration – The Complete Guide to Saving and Maximizing your Sight” by Lylas G. Mogk, MD and Marja Mogk available at SightConnection.
SightConnection Store: Sunglasses
Protecting your eyes from the sun’s damaging rays is very important. Our stylish new generation Vistana sunglasses have advanced UV protection, a wider viewing parameter, and an elegant design that looks more like a conventional sunglass. They fit comfortably over your eyeglasses (or alone) and the high tech polarized lenses offer total protection from UVA and UVB rays and glare. We have an assortment of frame choices, lens colors, and sizes. $49.95