Each September is Healthy Aging Month, an occasion observed nationwide to emphasize the positive aspects of aging. In commemorating Healthy Aging Month, organizations seek to raise awareness about how adults ages 45 and older can lead healthier, more satisfying lives. Recognizing that with age comes experience and many good things, “such as perspective (and) confidence…” The widespread use of technology also makes growing older easier. As Carol Worthington, Healthy Aging Month founder and editor-in-chief of Healthy Aging Magazine, states “’We saw a need to draw attention to the myths of aging, to shout out… ‘It’s not too late to take control of your health, it’s never too late to get started on something new. Read more from MeetCaregiver about Healthy Aging Month — Promoting Positives of Aging
Aging and Vision: Living Better with Vision Loss
We know that older adults often face health challenges, including changing vision. Some are expected changes, such as the need for corrective lenses even among those who never wore glasses, the need for more light, and difficulty with contrast sensitivity. Other changes — and vision difficulties — occur with eye conditions that are more common among older adults, including macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. These transitions often can be addressed and dealt with, however: “…with the right tools and community support, you can still remain active and self-sufficient.” Following are some helpful tips:
Regular eye exams: key to avoiding preventable vision loss;
Increased use of travel alternatives: including public and paratransit, using drivers and obtaining a white cane, with training for navigation;
Optical aids and technology: for reading and writing.
Read more tips, as well as information about support resources, from the University of Washington Healthy Aging and Physical Disability Rehabilitation Research and Training Center about Living Well with Age-Related Vision Loss.
Producing Written Material for Older Adults
In producing written material for seniors, changes that occur with age should be taken into account. For example, “changes in vision and in the way the brain functions can affect the ability of older adults to understand and use written information.” While some cognitive skills decline with age, such as slower information processing, other abilities are generally retained or can enhance abilities. For example, with literacy, older adults draw on an extensive knowledge base that can facilitate interpreting information, decision making, and problem solving. In developing written materials, for example, the Toolkit offers suggestions to utilize a “reader-centered approach,” seeing the material from a reader’s point of view, as well as testing what’s written among intended users. In terms of visual accessibility, for people with visual limitations, it’s important to be mindful of type size, contrast and formatting. This information is expanded upon in Things to know if your written material is for older adults, part of a “TOOLKIT for Making Written Material Clear and Effective” issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Research Findings on Vision Loss and Brain Function
Untreated vision problems can affect the function of the brain, according to a “growing body of research.” Declines in language, memory and overall functioning can occur when an older adult’s brain has to exert extra effort to interpret what the eyes see. A recent study, published in JAMA Network Open, found that individuals showing poorer visual acuity when tested had an increased likelihood of “cognitive decline over time, including deficits in language memory, attention and the ability to identify and locate objects in space.” However, steps can be taken to minimize the decline. Early identification and visual correction are key and, for those experiencing visual impairment, low vision rehabilitation can help individuals adapt to vision loss and function as self-sufficiently as possible. Environmental accommodations, such as the increased use of high contrast road signs, can help as well. Read more about these issues in The New York Times article, How Vision Loss Can Affect the Brain.
Helping Aging Brains Stay Healthy: Read, Write, Play Games
A new study shows that “Mental activities like reading and writing can preserve structural integrity in the brains of older people…” These activities, as well as attending a play or playing board games, can contribute to a “healthier brain” later in life. The findings, presented to the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), came from a study conducted by researchers from Rush University Medical Center and Illinois Technology in Chicago. Find out more from Science Daily: Reading, writing and playing games may help aging brains stay healthy.