If you live with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), everything from getting dressed to cooking can become a slow, frustrating ordeal. But with a little planning and a few smart supports, you can tackle your daily tasks successfully—and with fewer headaches.
The first thing to do, especially if you have wet AMD, an advanced form of the disease: Schedule an evaluation with a low-vision expert to determine what exactly you need help with and how you can benefit from specific services. “A low-vision evaluation enables us to find solutions so that the person with AMD can make good use of their remaining vision,” says John D. Shepherd, M.D., director of the Weigel Williamson Center for Visual Rehabilitation, University of Nebraska Medical Center Truhlsen Eye Institute. “There is no cookie-cutter formula that works for everyone. The therapy you receive will depend on your vision loss and what you most enjoy doing.”
Then remember that you already you have serious skills. You may have AMD now, but you’ve been getting dressed, cooking dinner, and doing the hundreds of other things daily life requires for decades, says Serena Sukhija, O.D., coordinator of Low Vision Services at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai in New York City. “Muscle memory really does make a difference, especially in a place that the patient is very familiar with, such as her own house,” she says. And as you move forward from here, you’ll learn how to make use of your other senses to complete tasks, says Dr. Sukhija.
In the meantime, we’ve got a few tips to help get the business of the day done.
Cooking & Eating
Pick Up Some Dark Dishes and Cutting Boards
The more contrast there is between a food and the surface it’s on, the easier it is to see. Think about the foods you frequently cut, dice, or slice, and consider the color of your plates and cutting boards. If they are white, it may be time to replace them with solid colors so you can see light-colored foods. Similarly, the boundaries of an onion pop much more on a black cutting board than on a white one, says Dr. Shepherd. Even just adding a few extra pieces to your current stash can help. Options are always a good thing!
Consider Under-Cabinet Lighting
Older people in general tend not to see as well as they once did, but having AMD in the mix exacerbates the issue. Installing lights beneath your cabinets is a simple way to brighten up your counter workspace. Or buy some gooseneck lamps (they’re often marketed to students for use in dorm rooms) and put them strategically around the kitchen as well as other rooms in your house. Just being in a brighter space gives your vision a boost.
Retool Your Stovetop and Oven
You use your stove every day, so if it’s hard to see the controls, cooking turns into a real hassle. Mark the appliance dials so that the numbers on the temperature controls and the timer are much bigger and thus easier to see, Dr. Shepherd says. Attaching a bump dot in a non-flammable material to the temperature marking you use most often (like 350°F) lets you find the temperature by touch. You can do the same for the dials that control the burners.
Getting Dressed & Ready
Access Instant Style Advice
Like Dr. Sukhija says, you’ve been getting dressed for your entire life, and you know how to zip and button without needing to see what you're doing. But what about actually choosing clothes that match, especially if you can’t quite see the colors? Grab your phone! There are several apps that can detect colors via your phone camera, or you could use Be My Eyes, a free app that connects you with sighted volunteers ready to help you with basically anything you need—including finding a shirt to go with those pants.
Learn a Few New Grooming Tricks
You might not be seeing as well as before, but you can still look like your amazing self. The nonprofit VisionAware has some great advice for shaving and doing makeup with low vision. You can find tutorials on YouTube, or work with your vision-rehab specialist.
Automate Pet Feeding
As in other areas of your home, minimize clutter around pet dishes and keep any pet-related supplies and equipment in specific places. “This way you will know where the cat dish is even if you don’t recognize it,” Dr. Shepherd says. You might also consider investing in an automatic feeder. You can fill it up every few days, and it will release food on a schedule you set.
Depending on your level of vision loss, you may be able to keep driving with appropriate restrictions, says Dr. Shepherd. Perhaps you will need to avoid night driving, driving at high speeds, or driving on unfamiliar roads. “When necessary, discuss alternatives for driving,” Dr. Shepherd says. “Ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft can make it easier to find help with transportation.”
To learn more about the services that are available to individuals with low vision, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology resource list.