Vision Health Resources

I can't see as well as I used to

VISION LOSS AND AGING
What you can do ...
How we can help ...

As we grow older, our eyes grow older, too.

We may have trouble reading the telephone book or a newspaper. It may take us a minute to adjust when we step out of a building into bright sunlight. We may no longer be able to see well enough to drive a car.

Sometimes, glasses or a minor operation can correct the problem. Sometimes, learning to live with low vision is another, less welcome, aspect of aging.

A person with low vision may have difficulty recognizing a face across the street or reading a menu in a restaurant. Low vision cannot be corrected with regular glasses, contact lenses, medication, or surgery.

The CNIB has been working with people with low vision for 80 years. We have expert mobility specialists and teachers, some of the best technology available, an excellent library, and helpful volunteers. We understand the challenges facing a person with low vision. We are here to help you to make the most of the vision you have.

Aging eyes--What you can do

For romantics, eyes are the windows of the soul. For scientists, the eye is an organ that communicates complex information to the brain. There is still a lot of research to be done, but we do know quite a lot about how we see and what we can do to see better as our eyes age.

PUT A LITTLE LIGHT ON THE SITUATION.

1. Light. No one, not even cats, can see in total blackness. We need light to see, and as our eyes age, we need more light to see well. People with low vision benefit from a bright, even, constant light source.

TURN DOWN THE GLARE.

2. Glare. While good, even light is helpful, glare is not. Generally, our eyes have more trouble adapting to abrupt changes in lighting as we grow older. Bright sunlight, glare from a window, and reflection from a glass tabletop can all make it harder to see.

SHARPEN THE CONTRAST.

3. Contrast. Objects of similar colours next to each other are hard to tell apart. Young eyes can usually pick up colour distinctions more easily but older eyes may, for instance, have trouble seeing the edge of a carpeted stair or the rim of a white plate on a white tablecloth. Strong colour contrasts help us to see.

Some suggestions

Here are some suggestions that people with low vision can follow to make life a little bit easier.

EATING

Light-coloured plates will show up better against a dark placemat or tabletop. Dark plates show up better against a light background. Similarly, light-coloured food will show up better on a dark dish, dark food on a light dish.

If you set your place at the table the same way every day, then you know what to expect. Drinking glass on the right. Salt and pepper on the left. You can do the same thing with the food on your plate. Potatoes at one o'clock. Meat at six o'clock. Vegetables at nine o'clock. A little planning can make mealtime more enjoyable and spill-free.

Using the clock method to place food on the plate can make meals more enjoyable.

"I was depressed when I finally admitted that my sight wasn't so good anymore, and my doctor said that there was nothing to be done about it. Then, I discovered that there were some things I could do. My son helped me install a light over my kitchen sink. I rearranged the furniture so I wouldn't keep tripping in the same spot, I learned about talking books that I can borrow from the CNIB library and I found large-print books at my public library. You know, the little things can make all the difference in the world."

COOKING

Good lighting helps a lot, especially in the kitchen. Consider putting a brighter bulb in a ceiling light and installing lights under kitchen cupboards that are above counters to light the counter space better.

You can label spice jars, food tins, and containers with your own homemade labels. Use a thick black marker to write on an index card or piece of white paper and attach the label to the jar or tin with an elastic band or tape. Try to figure out a system that will work best for you.

Thinking about colour contrast can also be useful when you are cooking. You may find it easier to use a mixing bowl that is a contrasting colour to your counter top and to the ingredients you are mixing in it.

READING

If you had children, you probably told them again and again to use a proper light when they were reading. Or, maybe you remember your parents reminding you! Children seem to be able to read anywhere. Older eyes need better lighting. It is best to have a good light source coming from over your shoulder when you read.

The CNIB has a national library that circulates talking books and magazines to provide readers of all ages with quality recordings on tape. As well, public libraries usually have a large-print book section and tape recordings of popular books.

"I always thought the CNIB was just for people who can't see at all. Until the other day. My mother asked me to try to find something to help her read the classified ads in the newspaper. She loves garage sales! I went to our local CNIB office just because I was passing by. The staff was so knowledgeable and friendly, and I found an excellent magnifier for my mom. Now I know the CNIB is there to help anyone with a vision problem."

GETTING AROUND INSIDE

Consider re-arranging the furniture in your home to suit your needs. Are there some places where you find it hard to see? Do you often bump into the same chair or have trouble with the stairs? Where do you like to sit? Think about sources of light, glare and contrast. You may find that a few adjustments will make a big improvement.

Here are some examples of changes you can make at home. You can paint the edges of stairs or put down a strip of carpet tape in a contrasting colour to contrast one stair from the stair above and below it. A colourful blanket on the back of a light-coloured chair can make the chair easier to see. Light switches can be made to stand out by using brightly coloured light plates that contrast with the wall behind them.

Getting into, or going back to, certain habits can be helpful too. For instance, always try to leave a door fully closed or wide open and remind other people in your home to do the same. Push chairs right back under the table as soon as you get up and put things back where they belong right away. These are all lessons we learned growing up that may become really useful now.

GETTING AROUND OUTSIDE

Here are two familiar suggestions for safer trips away from home: "Plan ahead" and "Take your time". If you plan your route before you leave home, you can think about where you are going, what money you need to have ready, and the best places to cross the street. And, if you give yourself a bit more time than you think you'll need, you won't end up in a rush.

Bright sunlight can make it hard to see. The CNIB has a wide selection of sunglasses that screen out ultraviolet rays from all directions and cut down on glare. They are for sale at a very reasonable price.

When getting around outside your home, always try to plan ahead and take your time. This will help you gain confidence and feel more comfortable in places that are not familiar.

How we can help.

If you are living with low vision, you may worry that you will have to give up many of your favourite activities. The CNIB is here to help. We are in the independence business. The CNIB offers services to help people who are blind or visually impaired adjust to declining vision so that they can continue to lead active and independent lives. For more information about CNIB services, call your local CNIB division office.

If you found this pamphlet interesting, you may also wish to read our brochures on specific eye conditions such as:

  • macular degeneration
  • glaucoma
  • diabetes and the eye
  • cataracts

To order these or for further information, call 1-800-563-2642.

The CNIB has offices in 60 communities across Canada. The telephone number is in the White Pages of the telephone book under "Canadian National Institute for the Blind."

To find out the location of the nearest CNIB office, call the Division Office in your province or territory.