Like many older adults, Betty Craig is coping with hearing loss. Thanks to a clever piece of technology, however, she no longer struggles to hear soft-spoken friends or the TV.
Craig uses a Pocket Talker, a small microphone that picks up voices and sounds and sends it to an earphone. She learned about and tried the device during VizAbilities, a support and learning group for people with vision and hearing loss.
"If people are experiencing these problems, there are a lot of options out there so they can maintain their lifestyle even with vision and hearing loss," said program coordinator Deb Dunaway, who facilitates monthly VizAbilities meetings in Craig, Steamboat Springs, Oak Creek and Hayden.
VizAbilities focuses on information, research and treatments relating to conditions such as glaucoma and macular degeneration. However, vision and hearing problems make it difficult for seniors to stay informed, so meetings also involve discussions about arthritis and other health conditions, home safety and even family issues such as learning disabilities and autism in grandchildren - any topics relevant to their lives.
"It's a way to keep people involved and interested," Dunaway said.
During a recent VizAbilities meeting in Steamboat, for example, Dunaway brought copies of MaxiAids, a catalogue with inexpensive adaptive products to help keep seniors independent and active - a good place for children to look for gifts for older parents, Dunaway pointed out.
Glow in the dark stakes for along walkways, an ergonomic hook for opening pop cans and a shopping cart that folds into a small bag were among products Dunaway thought might interest the group.
Dunaway also shared information on a new surgery for glaucoma patients, as well as the proper way to dispose of compact fluorescent light bulbs - which are more widely used and available because of their energy-efficient properties but which also contain small amounts of mercury.
Participants such as Craig appreciate these tips, as well as Dunaway's demonstrations of new products to help seniors manage ailing eyesight and hearing.
"The hearing and eyes are usually the first to go, so if you don't have someone like Deb, you're at a loss," Craig said. "She is really essential to us."
Of course, these topics make VizAbilities a good forum for seniors to simply talk and especially laugh about their experiences with "breakdown."
Steamboat seniors chatted about which brand of coffee has easy-to-open cans and the headache of organizing and remembering to take pills (how do you remember where you put your reminder?).
They agreed that while they can't stop breakdown, they can slow it down and work at finding different ways of doing things - such as settling for helicopter rides instead of skydiving.
Humor-tinged conversations about life, death and aging are an important part of VizAbilities meetings because they involve subjects that are difficult to talk about with family, especially in a humorous context, Dunaway said.
"I'm a firm believer that laughter is medicine," she said.
Tamera Manzanares can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.