Top Tips for Cooking When You Have Wet AMD

by Erin L. Boyle Health Writer

Is this your story? Your wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has progressed to vision loss. Maybe you can barely make out shapes and colors, hardly a rarity with this form of AMD that's responsible for 90% of legal blindness from the condition. But you love cooking, even though seeing the tools you need to create healthy meals (a key to slowing vision loss) is getting tougher. The good news: Vision loss doesn’t have to be the end of your kitchen creations. Read what experts recommend.

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Get the Right Help

Step 1 in safely cooking with vision impairment: Work with a low-vision specialist, says Timothy G. Murray, M.D., president of the American Society of Retina Specialists and a retina specialist in private practice in Miami. Hospitals, universities, and low-vision rehabilitation centers can help you find a therapist in your area. Christina Hedlich is one. An occupational therapist specializing in low-vision rehabilitation at the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a subsidiary of Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, MI, she has suggestions for safely cooking with wet AMD.

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Clear the Floor

Rule numero uno: The throw rug goes. It's not safe in the kitchen (or really, anywhere in your house) once you have vision issues, says Hedlich. “Any rugs that are on the floor should be flat and have nonslip bottoms so they don’t move around when you walk on them. And make sure that the corners stay down so they’re not a trip hazard,” she says. Your best bet in the kitchen is a rubber mat—cushioned enough for comfortable standing, but traction-friendly and slip-resistant as well.

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Use Shortcuts

No one’s going to judge you if you buy your lettuce pre-washed or purchase mushrooms that are already sliced. These shortcuts can cut down on hassle and challenges presented by low vision from wet AMD, Hedlich says. Pre-cut foods, whether frozen or fresh in the produce section, save you from having to wield a sharp knife you struggle to see. Also, buy box mixes so you don’t have to measure out certain ingredients, and ask family members to complete more difficult tasks for you, like breaking eggs into your mixing bowl.

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Courtesy of Lighthouse For The Blind and Visually Impaired

Mark the Area

Want to know how a pro recommends you keep your stove and oven safe? Something called bump dots. These little dots can be purchased in sheets at Amazon or low-vision rehabilitation centers. “Use them as a tactile marking to tell you, that’s definitely my start button on my microwave. This is a 350-degree mark on my oven,” Hedlich says. “They help you identify for sure what’s what so you don’t have to haul out a magnifier.” Come up with a system that feels logical to you: One dot for every 100 degrees on the oven dial, for instance.

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Go High Tech

If you have an Amazon Echo or Google Home device, you know how helpful they can be—and that help can extend to the kitchen. Ask them to read a recipe. Set a timer. Tell you how many cups in a quart. In the next few years, you can expect these technologies to get even better at assisting you. “I think we’re going to see some relatively fast advances,” says Dr. Murray. “The computing power exists and the algorithms are available. The technology is miniaturized enough that it is becoming a really useful option.”

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Switch Up the Lighting

Lighting is key for wet AMD patients, especially in the kitchen. With the right brightness, you may even be able to jumpstart some cells in your macula to see just a teeny bit better. Hedlich recommends placing a desk lamp on your kitchen counter very close to your workspace. An architecture lamp with a hinge can be a great option; alternatively, a lamp that turns on by touch can be good, too. Then, use a bright LED daylight bulb to promote better vision, she says. Depending on your eyes, a different colored light bulb can help sometimes as well—ask your low-vision specialist what color might be best for you.

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Go for Contrast

Marking different surfaces or appliances with contrasting colors can help enhance kitchen safety when you have low vision. A clever idea: Buy a cutting board that’s white on one side and black on the other, flipping it based on whatever color food you’re cutting. (You can find them at Bed, Bath and Beyond and Amazon.) If you measure a lot of white stuff, like flour and sugar, have a set of dark measuring cups. If you frequently measure darker food—think molasses and maple syrup—get a set of white measuring cups. Same with measuring spoons, says Hedlich.

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Label Everything

Was that a cup of sugar or salt you just added? These tips can help avoid such confusion:

  • Use colored tape on different canisters.
  • Print large labels and stick on containers.
  • Purchase tactile paper and cut out label letters (SUGAR, SALT, etc) to adhere to the cannister surface, so you can trace them with your fingers.
  • Employ a rubber band around the lid to differentiate between two things through touch.
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Practice Knife Safety

It’s hard to cook without using a knife, but sharp blades are a real danger when you have wet AMD. Help protect your digits by using brightly colored electrical or duct tape around the knife handle so you know which end is which (and you don’t accidentally grab the thing by the blade—ouch!). Also, dedicate part of the drawer for just the sharp knives to reduce risk of injury if you’re sticking your hand in to grab utensils, Hedlich says.

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Complete Your Wet AMD Kitchen

Check out these other ways to make your kitchen experience safer and easier.

  • Install a magnifying app on your phone.
  • Use Audible to read recipe books.
  • Get a flat screen smart TV or tablet to enlarge recipes.
  • Explore voice to text options on your phone and computer for everything from reading food labels to finding the canned tomatoes in your cabinet.
Erin L. Boyle
Meet Our Writer
Erin L. Boyle

Erin L. Boyle, the senior editor at HealthCentral from 2016-2018, is an award-winning freelance medical writer and editor with more than 15 years’ experience. She’s traveled the world for a decade to bring the latest in medical research to doctors. Health writing is also personal for her: she has several autoimmune diseases and migraines with aura, which she writes about for HealthCentral. Learn more about her at erinlynnboyle.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinLBoyle.