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From the need for reading glasses to cataract and more serious vision concerns, declining vision is an almost inevitable part of the aging process. Susan Goldberg discusses how advisors can make things easier for clients struggling with changes in eyesight.
The number of Canadians with age-related vision loss is expected to increase by nearly 30% in the next decade. Their advisors will need to educate themselves about the physical and emotional impacts of limited eyesight, and its potential effect on client relationships.
Whether it’s reading compliance documents out loud, taking the time to print out salient points or documents in a larger font, or making more home visits to clients whose poor eyesight limits mobility, Teresa Black Hughes, a financial advisor at Rogers Group Financial in Vancouver, has instituted several practices to ensure that her clients with compromised vision have the information they need to make informed financial decisions.
Black Hughes’s clients tend to disclose that they’re having trouble reading, she says, triggering her office to begin implementing sight-saving strategies. Her contact-management system flags all clients with vision impairments, cuing her and her staff to follow sight-saving protocols. “I’ll ask, ‘Do you think it’s time that we had your adult son or daughter start coming to all our meetings?’ or, ‘What would you think [about] me copying your kids on all our correspondence?’” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever had someone who said no. Usually, they sigh and say, ‘I guess we’ve reached that point.’”
Advisors can make their offices friendlier to sight-impaired clients in a variety of ways, says optometrist Tammy Labreche, a clinical associate professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry and Vision Science:
- Older eyes need better light: Provide strong, bright lighting for clients reading documents.
- Make sure corridors and client areas are free of clutter and obstructions — like open cupboard doors or pulled-out chairs — that can trip up clients with compromised vision.
- Print out documents in high-contrast black and white, using a sans serif typeface (like Arial) in an 18-24 point size.
- Provide assistive devices for reading documents, like electronic magnifiers, or even a closed-circuit television.
- Encourage your senior clients to have regular eye exams — retirement-age Canadians should get their eyes checked at least annually, or as directed by their eye health professional, says Labreche.
- Educate clients about programs, tax credits (see tip below), vision loss rehabilitation and other services for people with vision impairments.
And, above all, be prepared to take more time with vision-impaired clients. “I make a lot more house calls,” says Black Hughes. “Things that we used to deal with over the phone or by email now require face time.”
Age-related vision conditions
The most common age-related eye diseases Canada are
- Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). This is the leading cause of vision loss in Canada. Up to 25% of seniors over age 75 will develop this condition, says optometrist Tammy Labreche, a clinical associate professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry and Vision Science; according to the CNIB, about 1.4 million Canadians live with AMD. AMD gradually damages the macula, responsible for sharp central vision. Most people will develop the “dry” form of AMD, which progresses slowly. The “wet” form of the disease, affecting 10% to 15% of sufferers, can be much more severe. A healthy diet and lifestyle, some vitamins and injections can help slow the progression of AMD, but there is no cure.
- Cataract. This is a clouding of the transparent lens that helps to focus light on the retina at the back of the eye. It can cause blurring and make colours appear muddier. Cataracts usually develop gradually, says Labreche; people typically find they need more light to be able to see and that driving at night is harder. Cataracts can be surgically removed, a process that takes about 20 minutes. Sometimes a follow-up laser surgery is required.
- Diabetic eye disease. Retirees with diabetes are at risk of developing eye problems related to this condition. These can include cataract, glaucoma and — most commonly — diabetic retinopathy, which is damage to the blood vessels in the retina and can result in vision loss or blindness. People with diabetes should have regular eye examinations to detect diabetic retinopathy, which can show no symptoms until the disease is advanced. Better control of blood sugars can slow the onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy, and laser surgery can substantially reduce the risk of blindness.
- Dry eye. This condition, more prevalent in women, occurs when the eyes produce fewer tears or tears that aren’t “sticky” enough to keep the eye properly lubricated. It can feel like a burning or gritty sensation; cause pain, excessive tearing and blurred vision; and can potentially lead to infections. It’s often treated with artificial tears and some medications.
- Glaucoma. This group of diseases damages the optic nerve at the back of the eye. Glaucoma is usually a result of increased pressure inside the eye. In its early stages, glaucoma has no symptoms. Left untreated, though, it can lead to vision loss and blindness, says Labreche, so it’s important for seniors to have regular eye exams to ensure proper eye pressure. While there is no cure, progression can usually be slowed with eye drops.
Ontario residents with long-term low vision, or with blindness in at least one eye that cannot be corrected with surgery, regular glasses or contact lenses, may qualify for the province’s Assistive Devices Program (ADP). The ADP pays up to 75% (and in some cases, 100%) of the cost of visual aids, including:
- specialized glasses, magnifiers and other optical aids
- audio players for reading books
- Perkins and other manual braillers for writing
- closed-circuit television (CCTV) and computer-based reading and writing systems
- white canes for orientation and mobility
Legally blind Canadians can apply for the non-refundable federal disability tax credit, designed to offset some of the unavoidable additional expenses that can arise from vision loss and other disabilities.