Millions of Americans live with some form of visual impairment. Loss of eyesight is common among our nation’s elderly population; a large number of assisted living facility residents struggle with impaired vision, greatly impacting the quality and safety of their lives. Healthcare facilities, particularly those that support the elderly, must help to ensure that their patients receive compassionate, accurate, and safe care. Insurance for assisted living facilities is one part of a comprehensive risk management plan for care facilities. In this guide, we’ll present best practices and tips for helping seniors with visual impairment.
Visual Impairment in the Elderly
In a survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2010, residential care facilities across the United States indicated that 97% of residents had at least partial vision. While total blindness is somewhat rare within the elderly population, changes in vision are common as we age. These changes arise from a number of causes, including:
- Macular degeneration
- Changes in eye shape and volume due to aging
- Diabetic retinopathy
According to the American Foundation for the Blind, it is estimated that almost two million elderly citizens in the U.S. report difficulties in everyday activities due to lost vision. Loss of vision can complicate the daily lives of residents. This vision loss can result in withdrawal from daily activities, changes in behavior, and depression as the patient feels a loss of control of his or her surroundings. Vision loss can also create safety issues for facility caregivers and staff. Slip and fall injuries may occur when a visually-impaired resident is unable to navigate potentially dangerous areas. In some cases, those with loss of visual acuity may have difficulties in reading prescription medication bottles, which can result in taking the wrong medicines and can potentially lead to severe illness or even death. Corrective lenses and surgery are often used to help elderly people regain some of their lost vision. Assisted living facilities may also implement social and physical changes to improve the lives and safety of the residents they care for.
Tips for Helping Assisted Living Residents
Forward-thinking assisted living facilities have taken on the challenges of caring for elderly residents with lost visual acuity. There is a two-pronged approach in caring, focusing not only on physical safety to reduce premises liability claims covered by insurance for assisted living facilities and to protect the welfare of residents, but also to address the social and mental needs arising from lost vision.
Tips for making a safer living environment include:
- Improving contrast, especially in transitions between walking areas or where steps are present. Painting door trim a different color than surrounding walls can prevent bump hazards.
- Controlling glare by using adjustable lighting fixtures and appropriate window coverings.
- Removing trip/slip hazards promptly, including wet areas, loose floor coverings, and cords or wires that can cause injury.
- Communicating any changes in furniture arrangement or equipment moving beforehand.
- Explaining any unusual noises.
- Providing directions with clear verbal directions, especially when helping new residents learn the different areas of the facility. Bold, easy to read signage can also provide navigational directions.
Because those residents experiencing vision loss may also feel a loss of control over their surroundings, it is critical that facility staff address their social, mental, and emotional needs. Tips for ensuring resident engagement while preserving their dignity include:
- Creating a moral support system between staff, residents, and visitors, especially family members of elderly residents.
- Speaking directly to those affected by vision loss instead of talking around them.
- Encouraging open communication between staff and residents.
- Allowing visually-impaired residents to set the pace and tone of interactions.
- Not making assumptions about how much or how little a given resident can see – there are different levels of visual impairment.
- Offering help where needed while fostering a sense of independence among residents.
The goal of a long-term care facility is to provide a safe place for their residents. To minimize risks, these tips for helping those with visual impairments can dramatically reduce hazards that may lead to injury. Insurance for assisted living facilities helps to protect the facility, its assets, and its staff from liability claims. Providing a supportive, caring environment is the final piece of the care puzzle – a crucial component of helping elderly residents maintain their dignity and self-worth even in the face of lost vision.
About Caitlin Morgan
Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring assisted living facilities and nursing homes and can assist you in providing insurance and risk management services for this niche market. Give us a call to learn more about our programs at 317.575.4440.