Aging Well: ‘Life-changing’ products help ease vision, hearing loss

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Deb Dunaway provides information about research, treatments and adaptive equipment for individuals with disabilities during Independent Living Through Technology (formerly VizAbilities) meetings, which are held monthly in Craig, Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Oak Creek. For more information, call 970-826-0833.

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 Independent Living Through Technology, or to inquire about ways to volunteer with the organization, call the main office in Craig at 970-826-0833.

Editor’s Note: This article originally was published April 27, 2009. It has been updated for accuracy.

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.

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 appliances with hard-to-see buttons. The cards cost about $1.

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 Independent Living Through Technology (formerly 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.

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

Several online and catalog companies offer a plethora of adaptive items to help older adults and people with disabilities maintain independent lifestyles. Examples include Maxi Aids, Independent Living Aids and LS & S.

A 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 $16 to $45.

“Those are another cheap fix that are life altering,” Dunaway said.

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 really can improve 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, which can help them monitor their weight without making a special trip to the doctor.

Higher-ticket items include exercise equipment and 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.

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

For information about Independent Living Through Technology or other services available to individuals with disabilities, call 970-826-0833.

— 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 older. For more information or to view past articles, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 970-871-7676.

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