Aging well: "Life changing" products help ease vision, hearing loss

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Deb Dunaway, of the Independent Life Center, will demonstrate products available to people experiencing vision or hearing loss, arthritis and other problems at noon Wednesday during Hayden Wellness Days at The Haven Community Center.

Lunch is available for $2.50. All are welcome. For more information or to suggest future guest speakers or topics for Wellness Days, call 871-7676.

Dunaway provides free information about research, treatments and adaptive equipment for disabled individuals during VizAbilities meetings held monthly in several locations. Upcoming meetings:

• 1:30 p.m. today at Sunset Meadows I in Craig.

• 12:30 p.m. May 12 at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.

• 12:30 p.m. May 14 at the American Legion in Hayden.

• 12:30 p.m. May 20 at the Oak Creek Community Center.

The Independent Life Center serves people with physical and developmental disabilities in Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Grand and Summit counties. For more information about services, including VizAbilities, or to inquire about ways to volunteer with the organization, call the main office in Craig at 826-0833.

Losing vision separates a person from the world; losing hearing separates them from humanity.

Deb Dunaway has heard this sentiment more than a few times from clients experiencing these challenges.

Thankfully, products are available to re-engage individuals in social interaction and also help them with daily tasks hindered by deafness, blindness, arthritis and other problems prevalent among older adults.

It's Dunaway's job to connect individuals with this savvy and often inexpensive technology.

"They are absolutely shocked these things are available," said Dunaway, who coordinates the Older Individuals with Blindness Program at the Independent Life Center in Craig.

Hayden residents will have a chance to check out some of these products first-hand during Dunaway's presentation Wednesday at Wellness Days at The Haven Community Center.

The most popular products are the personal FM systems, which help individuals tune in to conversations. Unlike many hearing aids, which do not filter out external noise, gadgets such as the Pocket Talker are geared toward voices, making it easier for the user to participate in discussions.

Personal FM systems typically cost about $160, compared with hearing aids, which range anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000.

"Nearly everyone says they are life changing," Dunaway said.

Even the simplest and cheapest of products can make a big difference. Individuals losing their sight may benefit from cards with raised adhesive dots that can be placed on a microwave, washing machine or other appliance with hard to see buttons. The cards cost about $1.

Another product popular with people experiencing vision problems are NoIR glasses, which come in many different shades to improve eye sight for people with night blindness, glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and other problems.

One client purchased a pair just so she could comfortably sit in her bright kitchen. Dunaway, who travels within a five-county region assisting clients, bought a pair that improves contrast and clarity during winter driving conditions.

Because many people have vision trouble in various situations, such as in front of a computer, the glasses are popular among all ages. The NoIR company even makes specialty glasses for children. Overall prices range from about $9 to $35.

"Those are another cheap fix that are life-altering," Dunaway said.

Several online and catalog companies offer a plethora of adaptive items to help older adults and people with disabilities maintain independent lifestyles.

A variety of handy kitchen items are available, such as an ergonomic multi-tool that opens different lids, reversible cutting boards with black or white surfaces for contrast and utensils with built up handles to make tasks less painful for arthritic hands.

Many adaptive aids have a technological element that might overwhelm some older adults, but with the help of family or friends these items can really improve an older adults' quality of life.

"There is so much technology," Dunaway said. "They are coming up with something new every day."

People with vision loss benefit from a variety of "talking" gadgets such as talking scales that can help them monitor their weight without making a special trip to the doctor.

Higher ticket items include exercise equipment, as well machines that scan printed material and read it back to the user, Dunaway said.

Tools and aids also can make a person's hobbies or pastimes more enjoyable. Computer users, for example, may need large print or contrast keyboards, ergonomic mice or screen magnifiers.

Gardening may be more enjoyable with the help of a kneeler stool, which has a thick foam pad to protect knee joints and hand grips that make it easier to get up. Ergonomic pruners, hand tools and gardening gloves that reduce hand fatigue also are available.

While useful, many adaptive items look like everyday things so the person using them doesn't feel self-conscious or incapable, Dunaway said.

She will be sharing several catalogs with adaptive items during her talk at Wellness Days this week. Her presentation will be a good opportunity for adult children or caregivers to learn about products that can help family members contending with various physical challenges.

"Being exposed to this information gives you that many tools to draw from," Dunaway said.

The nature of disabilities such as sight and hearing loss makes it difficult for individuals to stay informed about new products, treatments and research related to their conditions.

Dunaway works to bridge this gap through VizAbilities, which involves regular monthly meetings aimed at sharing information relevant to vision and hearing loss, as well as other topics important to older adults. The meetings also provide a comfortable setting for participants to share their experiences and challenges.

For information about VizAbilities or other services available to individuals with disabilities, call 826-0833.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tammarie74@yahoo.com. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and better. For more information or to view past articles, log onto www.agingwelltoday.com or call 871-7676.

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