This article is something that I have been encouraged to write because of my experience in helping my mother, who has low vision issues associated with Macular Degeneration, find ways to stay safe at home and function more independently. The methods I use and the products I mention are not the only way to make this work. This is just what we ended up using and what works for our particular circumstances.
There are no affiliate links or product reviews in this article, nor is it a complete list of options. The article’s sole purpose is to provide some insight into some available options to help people live a safer and more independent lifestyle. Most of the items and methods discussed here will revolve around people with vision issues, but many will also apply to other situations as well. Hopefully, our experiences will provide some insight for others who are providing care for loved ones.
Where to Start
Where you start is going to depend upon your situation. If you define the most basic struggles of the person using these items and techniques, you should get an idea of where to start and what to work on first. We built our “plan” based on my mother’s vision issues first because that was what she was having trouble with first.
When my mother’s Macular Degeneration first started causing issues, we had to try to find ways to help her navigate through ordinary daily tasks, such as cooking and reading mail. As things progressed, we had to find options to assist her with other tasks, as well. One of the basic tasks that caused her trouble was adjusting her home thermostat. It is a fairly simple task for most people, but when you cannot see very well, it becomes a great challenge to know what your thermostat settings are and adjust the settings to your desired comfort level.
Our first assistance came in the form of a visit from one of the low-vision agencies in our town. They were very helpful and gave us some good tips on how to work through everyday activities. They also provided us with some “tools” to help my mother adapt. Some of these were found when we began, and others were found upon later visits from the low vision agency. Contact your eye doctor to get ideas concerning the agencies in your area.
Here are some items they gave her and/or suggested she could use in no particular order:
- Dots – I don’t know what else to call these. They are just brightly colored little rubbery bumps that stick onto items to give a visual aid and an added tactile assistance. We affix these onto start buttons on appliances, radios, etc. to help her feel that button. They come in different sizes, colors, and shapes, so you can make different buttons have different “feels”.
- Magnifying Glasses – This goes without saying, I suppose, but these come in very handy for being able to read labels, etc. The things I have learned are that she prefers magnifying glasses that have a built-in light to brighten things up. Also, you need to find the right magnification for your needs. The higher magnification ones are usually smaller and have a very narrow distance from the item being viewed in order to work. Sometimes lower power works better.
- Talking Devices – My mother also deals with high blood pressure and glucose, so we have to monitor these. We have found talking versions of her monitors that will read out the results after she had gotten the reading. They also have large displays of the numbers to help her see them if she needs to do so. There are lots of options, so a quick search will lead you to find what works best for you.
- Brightly Colored Pill Organizers – We use a combination of two different pill organizers for her to keep track of her medication. They each hold two weeks’ worth of medications. They are different colors to help her know which one is her morning medications and which one is her nightly medications. We also keep them in two different locations which helps her keep them differentiated, as well. I fill these on a regular basis, and she can just take all of the pills in a particular day’s or night’s compartment. Her meds are the same daily and this arrangement does not require her to see which day on the pill container she chooses. As long as she is using the one for day or night, she will get her meds correctly.
- Knives for Kids – I know this sounds a bit silly, but these knives for kids work pretty well for her, and they won’t cut her when she is using them. Plus, they are bright colors which helps them to be seen.
- Cut Resistant Gloves – While the knives above are helpful, they are not going to work well in all situations. Another aid to help keep my mother from cutting herself accidentally are these cut-resistant gloves. Note: I recommend these, but my mother does not like to wear them, so they may be a waste of time and money. It will depend on the user.
Note: Contrast is key in many situations for people with low vision. We have replaced some of the electrical outlet faceplates with black ones, so that the outlet itself which is white, will show up better when she is trying to plug something into that particular outlet. Also, a cutting board that is white on one side and black on the other is a helpful surface for food preparation. This help with making a sandwich or cutting vegetables. There are lots of ways to use contrast to help.
Helpful Devices for Low-Vision Aids
Here is a list of some of the devices we use to help her navigate through her daily life. Again, there are lots of options here. This is just what we ended up with and what we found works for us.
Amazon Echo Dot
We have three of these spread throughout her home so that she is able to talk to one of them at any time. They pick up her talking from quite a distance, but she cannot hear them well if she is too far away. That is one of the main reasons we have several.
These devices help her with lots of daily tasks from providing weather updates and finding general information to helping keep her safe. The main advantage for us is that we can use the “Drop-in” feature to audibly check on her if needed and we use the “Alexa Together” service for her to notify us if she needs help. There is also a “skill” for Alexa (and other assistants) called Ask My Buddy. It does some of the same things as Alexa Together, but it will also notify me and other family members as well.
There are lots of other uses for these devices, as well. I could write an entire article, just on the ways she uses this device. It has become like a friend to her and will even call her by name. Here is a list of some of the skills that Alexa is capable of doing.
See below for how we use “Alexa” to help with other tasks.
We use smart plugs to help with turning on lamps, etc. You can just ask Alexa to “Turn on living room lamp”, for instance. These just plug into an outlet and then you plug the device you want to control into the smart plug. You can name them (i.e., Livingroom Lamp) in the Alexa app to help with defining which plug you are controlling.
This is the reason we got the Echo device in the first place. Mom could not see her thermostat readout, even with a large display, to set the temperature in her home. We got a Honeywell wi-fi thermostat and connected it to Alexa. She can now say things like “Alexa, set the heat to 70 degrees” and it will change the setting for her.
When her old, traditional doorbell started acting up, we opted to replace it with a Ring video doorbell. This has worked great. It notifies her through her Amazon Echo (Alexa) device when someone approaches the door and when someone actually rings the bell.
Also, I have the Ring app on my phone, and it will notify me when someone comes to her door and I can actually talk to them if needed. Plus, I can see her when she goes to get her mail and make sure she gets back inside okay.
TIP: We found that the Postal Service will bring the mail to the door for those with conditions that hinder them from going to the mailbox. You can contact them about this and there is a form to fill out. It works well for her, after a bit of a start up lapse. It also helps to be nice to your postal carrier.
I put this tip here because it was an unexpected bonus. Her doorbell tells her it has detected motion, so she knows when her mail has been delivered.
As we are progressing, I am considering installing video cameras inside her home to help me see how she is doing. I have not done this yet, because I want her to have her privacy as much as possible. However, at some point, the need will outweigh the inconvenience. If you are in a situation where it is needed, you might want to look into this. A friend of mine uses these to keep an eye on his family member, even though she has in-home care most of the time. Peace of mind is worth a lot.
We tried one of the pendant devices that can be worn around the neck for my mother, but she did not like it and would not wear it. Her cell phone is another option for her to keep with her in case of a fall, but she does not carry it with her all of the time, either. That is why we opted for the Alexa Together service.
The caveat with that service is that she has to be able to call out for help. If she is unconscious, it won’t help. There are some devices available that will detect a fall and notify the Alexa Together team, but they are a bit pricey, and it seems like you need one for each room in order to be effective. We may go this route in the future, but not for now. If you have any experience with these, please drop us a note in the comments to let us know what you think.
We have had intermittent in-home care for my mother as she has needed it. There are lots of local agencies that can help you with in-home care and even home companions if that is all you need. This will likely become a more permanent situation with us in the future, but if you need it now, I suggest you start checking around. There are lots of services that are out there if you look for them.
iPhone with Siri
Her low vision agency was able to get her an iPhone that is set up with lots of accessibility features to help her. We set this up for her to use the SIRI voice assistant to allow her to call people in her contacts, look up and call numbers for businesses, etc., and even send text messages and receive text messages which are read back to her.
This work well, with one exception. She cannot answer incoming calls. The phone will not allow her to just push a button to answer the call. It requires her to touch a button on the screen and swipe it up. She just cannot see it well enough to do that successfully. She cannot use SIRI to answer the calls either. SIRI just won’t do that.
There is a feature to set some of the newer iPhones to automatically answer after a certain number of rings, but considering the number of spam calls she receives, this is not a secure option. I am considering switching her to an Android-based phone to see if that works better. A real button that she could feel or the ability to tell the assistant to answer the call would be a great feature for these devices.
Smart TVs are helpful as well. In our case, we do not use the smart TV as much as the remote for the cable box. Mom can push a button and tell the remote to change to a certain channel, etc. There are ways to do this with the Alexa and other devices, so what works best in your case is what you should look into. She already had the remote, so we went that route.
There are lots of services that will deliver pre-made meals to the home. These vary in price and food styles, so you should be able to find one that works for you. My mother’s insurance will cover some of the costs for Mom’s Meals, for instance. This helps her to get healthier meals without having to cook herself.
Of course, you can also prepare meals yourself and package them up for individual meals that just need to be reheated. My wife often prepares a bit more than we will eat and we share that with my mother. Mom especially loves my wife’s cornbread, so we always make sure to save some for her.
The National Library Service for the Blind offers several options for people with vision issues to be able to listen to audiobooks and magazines. Our state (TN) library provided her with a BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) Reader. She can choose from a list of books to listen to, and they will send them to her on a small cartridge that plugs into the player and holds several books at a time. When she is done, she just sends them back. There is no cost for this service and even the postage is free.
You can also buy the cartridges yourself from the Perkins Library on Amazon and use the BARD app on your computer to download the books and put them on the cartridge. This is a good way to get the books you want without relying on someone else’s choices. TIP: if you are going to go that route, I suggest you also buy the extension cable while you are at it. There are not many good ways to attach the cartridge to your computer without the cable. Also, I bought the 16GB cartridge and that is overkill. You should be able to get 15-20 talking books on the 4GB cartridge. I bought two cartridges so that she could be listening to one while I was putting books onto the other one.
Other options for audiobooks are available, such as Audible. However, these services have limitations and fees associated with them. A quick search can help you find what is right for you.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways technology can be used to help people with physical limitations function better in their own homes. I hope that you find something in this article that will help you or your loved ones stay safe and comfortable for as long as possible.
If you have any ideas for things I have missed, please let us know in the comments. It might be helpful for someone else, as well.
The links in this post are not affiliate links and no one will receive any payment (except for the company from whom you buy the products) from these items and links. These links are provided as a courtesy and should not be considered an endorsement of any of the services or products listed nor should they be considered the best price for the items.