Alice Outwater

I’ve begun to realize changes are happening to my eyes. A few years ago I had two separate cataract operations, both of which were successful and greatly improved my vision’s clarity.

These compromises are considered normal changes with advancing years. The number of older Americans who have visual impairments or are blind is projected to double by 2050, as 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day. Good news: Up to 80 percent of visual impairment cases are considered preventable.

I find going into or coming out of a dark movie theater difficult; I must get up from my seat slowly, then move carefully to let my eyes adjust to the brighter light (or vice versa). My slow light adaptation puts me at risk for misjudging distances and feeling disoriented. Extra time and special care must be applied when I navigate theater or arena stairs.

At dusk, as the light is changing, I must be cautious about seeing the surfaces on sidewalks and streets—no more fast walking or skipping along without paying attention.

Especially tricky are our changing temperatures. One stretch of the path may be smooth, then suddenly icy. Beware! It’s best to find a place indoors to walk such as a mall, or if outside, walk near stores whose walks are shoveled and sanded. You can also attach rubber grippers to the soles of your shoes that grab the ice. Boots are also available with ice cleats permanently installed on the soles.

As a precaution I keep a cane and a walking stick in the car to help with balance. In winter I use one of them daily.

Hand in hand with the above is loss of hearing.  80% of people over 85 years struggle to hear.

In another century people held a horn to their ears to catch the words. Today’s hearing aids are better than ever, yet they can be a nuisance to put on, especially if you do not use them every day. Some of us forget how to adjust the settings or change the batteries when needed. They may be uncomfortable or difficult to use and easy to lose. And they can be expensive when not covered by insurance. So is all the effort required to improve hearing worth it?

Loss of hearing may prompt social isolation, loneliness, even depression. Friends and family may get impatient with having to repeat and repeat what they’ve said. Or the hearing-impaired person may appear to have dementia, lose the ability to follow a conversation, and give up asking the other person to say it again.

Large groups and dinner parties can be stressful because of louder background noise. Some people become adept at reading lips or ask others to speak more slowly and keep good eye contact.

One cannot be lazy dealing with hearing aids. I just returned from an all-day professional conference having heard little. I had put my hearing aids in hastily; when I returned home and took them off, I noticed the batteries had dropped out. Fortunately I managed, thanks to slides and written handouts.

Using hearing aids daily helps the brain adjust, and the clarity of one’s speech improves. When these aids are correctly operated and the person is used to them, they can be a miracle, restoring that person to a previously full social life.

Hang onto your vision and hearing with all your might. After all, our senses create our world.