Caring for Those with Vision Loss

Family Caregiving, Military Families August 22, 2016 Print Friendly and PDF

 Are you caring for a wounded warrior who has experienced vision loss due to military combat? Are you struggling to understand his or her condition?

Medical staff from military treatment facilities work to help wounded warriors regain as much sight as possible. However, after your wounded warrior is released, you will assist him or her with daily activities and aid in the recovery process. It's important that you, as a caregiver, become aware of the issues your wounded warrior may face.

Understanding vision loss

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, vision impairment or blindness can be caused by damage to any portion of the eye or optic nerve or damage to certain parts of the brain, affecting its ability to receive or process visual information correctly.

Even when wearing protective eyewear, service members may suffer eye injuries from explosions and resulting debris. In many cases, these eye injuries require multiple surgical procedures and treatments.

Many people who experience eye injuries regain partial or total vision; however, many wounded warriors with severe or complex injuries have permanently impaired vision or are blind. Vision impairment is defined as the inability to see objects as clearly as usual or to see as wide an area as usual without moving the eyes or turning the head.

A person with low vision has a significant reduction of visual function that cannot be fully corrected to a normal level by ordinary glasses, contact lenses, or medical treatment. Individuals with severely low vision, or limited vision, can be considered legally blind. Through treatment procedures and therapy, wounded warriors can learn to use specialized equipment to maximize their vision and/or learn to read and write Braille to regain independence. 

Acknowledging the emotional effects of vision loss

Wounded warriors who have vision loss or an inability to process visual information correctly may experience many difficult emotions, including grief, fear, shock, anger, and depression. It is important to acknowledge these emotions

  • Listen and offer help when your wounded warrior is experiencing worry, anger, frustration, or fear. 
  • Be patient. Let your wounded warrior do as much as possible, even if tasks take longer or he or she does something differently from how you might do it.
  • Provide assistance to your wounded warrior if asked. He or she can tell you what is needed or how you might handle the challenge together.
  • Ensure that the environment is as predictable and consistent as possible, and orient your wounded warrior to new surroundings.
  • Provide directions if necessary. Be specific; for example, say “The tape recorder is on your left.”
  • Greet your wounded warrior by name, and let him or her know when you enter or leave a room. 

Making your home accessible for your wounded warrior

You can make relatively simple changes that will help your wounded warrior stay safe and comfortable in your home. Also, you can learn techniques for helping your wounded warrior move easily while traveling outside your home.

  • Improve lighting to reduce glare that results in light and dark contrasts throughout your home.
  • Organize your home for a more safe and comfortable environment.
  • Eliminate objects such as low tables and throw rugs to prevent falling.
  • Guide the wounded warrior to a chair by placing his or her hand on the back, arm, or seat so that he or she can sense its placement and be seated.
  • Introduce techniques and devices such as a cane for assistance.
  • Use the sighted guide technique to assist your wounded warrior while walking: walk a half step in front, and have him or her hold your arm just above the elbow. This allows you to announce any hazards, such as steps or holes in the path.
  • As needed, inform bus drivers, shopkeepers, or others about your wounded warrior’s vision impairment for ease of travel.

Accessing caregiver resources

For additional resources for caring for persons with vision loss, check out the Family Caregiver Alliance or the American Foundation for the Blind. Contact your local Army installation’s Soldier Family Assistance Center (SFAC) for information about support groups and caregiver support services. For more information on caregiving, visit the VA Caregiver Support website.


References

  1. Academy Sponsors Congressional Briefing on Military Eye Trauma Bill.” The American Academy of Ophthalmology. 29 Oct. 2007. 27 Feb. 2011.
  2. Blindness/Vision Loss.” U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2). Aug. 2009. 3 Feb. 2011.
  3. Low Vision Library: About Low Vision.” The Center for the Partially Sighted. 3 Feb. 2011.
  4. Vision Impairment.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 24 Oct. 2008. Department of Health and Human Services. 3 Feb. 2011.
  5. Vision Loss.” Family Caregiving Alliance. 2008. 3 Feb. 2003.
  6. Do you know someone with vision loss?” Community Services for the Blind and Partially Sighted. 27. Feb. 2011.

Photo 1 provided by stock.xchng; photo 2 provided by the Fort Hood Sentinel.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.