Living in a Blur: How to Help Loved Ones Safely Navigate Life with Cataracts

Posted By Key-Whitman Eye Center || 15-Jun-2018

If you could help a friend or loved one with declining vision live a safer more productive life – would you? Of course you would! According to Key-Whitman Eye Center’s President and Chief Surgeon Jeffrey Whitman, lending a helping hand is easy to do and can make a big difference for people in the days, months and years leading up to cataract surgery.

Cataracts – the gradual clouding of the lens in the eye – will eventually strike all of us as we age. The worse cataracts get, the blurrier vision becomes. Loss of color, clarity and brightness are also common symptoms of cataracts.

What can YOU do to help improve the life of someone with cataracts?

Be proactive and look for signs of vision loss

Your friend or loved one may not come out and tell you they’re struggling to see, so don’t assume their vision is fine. Along with directly asking if they’re having any vision troubles, Dr. Whitman recommends keeping an eye out for common signs that cataracts are becoming a problem.

“You may notice people with cataracts bumping into things in a dim room, struggling to step off a curb, complaining that the TV or light bulbs aren’t bright enough, having difficulty finding the door to a restaurant in the evening or misinterpreting colors. For example, you wouldn’t believe how many times cataract surgery patients have told me they’ve argued with someone about paint colors – whether it’s their spouse or someone at the paint store. Then, after surgery they can’t believe they picked that particular color. It happens all the time,” Dr. Whitman says.

Have an early, open discussion about safe driving

The consequences of cataracts escalate along with the severity of the condition. As Dr. Whitman explains, “Symptoms start with simple things like difficulty reading and seeing the TV. Things get more serious when someone with advanced cataracts gets behind the wheel of a car. Glare gets worse as cataracts do, which makes it hard to read and see street signs, especially at night. Not only is this dangerous to the driver and others, it could lead your loved one to give up driving altogether and living a more cloistered existence, which could be a detriment to their mental health.”

On the other hand, many people with cataracts don’t want to give up driving, because they fear losing their independence. Dr. Whitman faced this dilemma with his own mother and eventually had to take away her keys. His recommendation?

“Have ‘the talk’ about taking away the keys, before it’s time to have ‘the talk.’ This is a tough issue to discuss, but it’s easier if you do it early on. Explain that you don’t want them to put themselves and others in danger, and when you feel they’re no longer able to drive safely, you’ll ask them for their keys. From the early stages of cataracts on, it’s also a good idea to take a drive with your loved one from time to time to see if they’re driving safely or not,” Dr. Whitman says.

Dr. Whitman discusses what to do and look for when taking a “test drive” with a friend or loved one with cataracts.

Noticing signs of impaired vision? Get your loved one in for an eye exam ASAP

It’s important to have regular eye exams to monitor eye health and get early treatment for eye diseases and conditions. According to Dr. Whitman, “Sadly, many people don’t realize they have cataracts or that the condition is treatable, they just think they’re going blind and nothing can be done. In fact, cataracts are actually the number one most treatable form of blindness in the world. Plus, cataract surgery is widely available and one of the safest surgical procedures in the United States.”

Learn more about cataract surgery with this informative checklist.

If the eye doctor determines that cataracts are to blame, cataract surgery can truly change a friend or loved one’s life. “For people who have given up driving and their independence solely due to cataracts, cataract surgery can help them see great, so they can drive safely again,” Dr. Whitman says.

While cataracts are treatable, other eye diseases and conditions can lead to irreversible blindness if not diagnosed and treated early. During the eye exam, the eye doctor will also screen for progressive conditions like macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and others.

Prior to cataract surgery, take steps to make your loved one’s home a safer place

When you visit the home, scan each room for tripping hazards, like rugs, electrical cords, boxes, stacks of magazines, furniture, etc. Make sure the rooms have plenty of bright lighting and turn off any irons, curling irons, stove burners and ovens that are not being used.

Another issue that people with failing vision face is reading labels on medicine bottles. If they take oral medication, you can help your loved one by filling up their pill caddy as needed.

Medicated eye drops can pose other problems. As Dr. Whitman explains, “There are all sorts of little bottles out there that look alike. I actually had a patient who glued her eyes shut when she mistook a bottle of fingernail glue for her glaucoma eye drops. She had both bottles sitting on her bedside table, because she was fixing a cracked nail before bedtime.

“We were able to remove the glue, but my advice to her – and others – is to keep your eye medication in a separate place from other little bottles of glue or even eardrops. You can help out by marking the bottles with brightly colored labels so they’re easier to tell apart, especially if your loved one uses different types of eye drops for glaucoma, post-cataract surgery care, dry eye symptoms and other conditions.”

Doctor Whitman offers tips on how to label bottles so it’s easy to tell them apart.

Looking for expert advice about cataracts or other vision problems?

Dr. Whitman and his team of experienced eye doctors and cataract surgeons in Dallas, Arlington, Plano and Mesquite are here to help.To learn more or to schedule an appointment,please call(972) 905-9128 or feel free to set up an appointment online.

ABOUT DR. WHITMAN

Jeffrey Whitman, M.D., is a nationally renowned eye surgeon, board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology. He has been the President and Chief Surgeon of Key-Whitman Eye Centers in Dallas since 1996 and is currently President of the Outpatient Ophthalmic Surgery Society. Dr. Whitman is a frequent participant in clinical trials and is known as a respected researcher, innovator and leader in refractive cataract surgery, LASIK eye surgery and for his extensive experience implanting high-technology lenses. He is frequently called upon to serve on the boards of local and national medical associations and organizations. Dr. Whitman and his wife reside in Dallas and enjoy fitness, playing tennis, snow skiing and traveling.

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