Janice Hall Heck

Finding hope in a chaotic world…

Tips for Caregivers of Visually Impaired Persons (VIPs) in Care Settings

Meet my brother, Adam, age 80. He is blind and has been living independently in his own condo until now. With increasing cognitive confusion, balance problems, falls, and general weakness, he can no longer live alone and has moved into an assisted living facility.

Adam on a camping and hiking trip with Ski-for-Light, an organization that assists visually impaired persons (VIPs) in physical activities.

Adam at 70 on a camping and hiking trip with Ski-for-Light, an organization that assists visually impaired persons (VIPs) in physical activities.

Adam has lived a full and active live even after losing his sight at age 53 due to detached retinas. He has managed well for these last 27 years, keeping his positive attitude and generally cheerful nature.

But Adam lives in the big, black box of blindness. Imagine what it must be like to move into a new care setting.

Imagine: You live in a black box.  The door to your box opens. A person comes in, makes some random noises, then leaves. Who is that person? What do they want?

Imagine. A person comes in and starts talking. Who are they talking to? To you? To the person in the next bed? The person pricks your finger and leaves.

Imagine. Someone hoists your feet up onto your wheelchair footrest.  Why? Your wheelchair moves. Who is pushing the wheelchair? Where is this person taking you?

Many people check on you during the day in the course of their duties. Who are all these people? What are their names? What are they doing?


How would these nonverbal interactions make you feel? Confused? Irritated? Frustrated? Hopeless? Helpless? Depressed? All of the above?

Adam experiences all these feelings regularly. VIPs need lots of verbal interaction in order to become oriented to the care environment. Here’s how you can help.

1. Orient the VIP to people he will encounter each day.

Greet Adam. Identify yourself and your reason for being in his box every time you enter.

Hi Adam. I’m Valerie. I’m here to give your meds.
HI Adam. I’m Sarah. I’m going to check your blood sugar level.
Hey Adam. Simon here. I’m going to move your wheelchair away from this doorway so people can come in.

2. Get to know Adam as a person who has a wealth of experiences. Take a few minutes to engage him in conversation.

Our family posted some pictures in his box, and these became conversation starters for people who came in.

Hello. My name is Adam. I am blind. Please tell me your name. You can kid around with me.

Hello. My name is Adam.
I am blind.
Please tell me your name.
You can kid around with me.

The speech therapist saw this next picture and asked about it.



Therapist.  Oh, is that your dog? He’s really cute.
Adam. Yes. Her name was Peaches. She had cancer and died. (Peaches was a big part of his life in his early blindness. Adam still chokes up when he talks about her.)
Therapist. Oh, I am so sorry to hear that. I bet you loved that little dog.

This therapist made a personal, empathetic connection with Adam in this short conversation. She treated Adam like a person with feelings.

Brief interactions with Adam make him feel comfortable in new surroundings, and these new caregivers soon become friends. Personal connections are critical to the successful orientation of VIPs.

3. Wear your name tag every day.

Adam can’t read your nametags, but family and friends can. It’s hard for them to remember all the personnel who interact with Adam every day. Help them out. Wear your name tag. And post your name on a whiteboard in the room. Family members can help Adam remember your name and your role in his care.

Next tip coming soon: Orient the VIP to Place.
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12 thoughts on “Tips for Caregivers of Visually Impaired Persons (VIPs) in Care Settings

  1. Thanks for posting these helpful tips and reminders Janice. I have developed a friendship with someone who lost their sight in their 40’s and it has been an important learning experience for me.

  2. Lovely post, Janice. So much of it sounds like common sense, but I guess it’s easy to get busy and forget. Those photos sound like a great idea!

    • Since I have been working on this post, I listened and watched carefully to see how many people announced themselves when coming into Adam’s presence. The answer is: not very many. In a care setting it causes great confusion for a blind person. Such a simple thing, but it is often overlooked. *sigh*

  3. Great post, Janice! This hit close to home, as my significant other is visually impaired and has even gone on a Ski for Light trip. I hope we won’t need these tips for many years, but they are good ones! I can’t imagine losing one’s sight at 53…kudos to your brother for adapting to live a full and independent life.

    • Oh, I am happy to hear someone else has gone on a Ski-for-Light trip. That gave my brother such a boost in confidence. What a terrific organization. Now, Adam, at 80, is getting more confused by the day, so these tips become even more important. We have to tell him where he is every day. Yesterday he got “lost” in his own little studio in the care facility. It’s sad to see how rapidly he is declining.

      • I’m so sorry about your brother. My significant other loved the trip — he could ski with confidence, at his own pace, and everything was arranged to be accessible so he didn’t have to think about anything. What a change from everyday life.

  4. Janice, thank you for sharing this small snapshot of your brother’s experience as a person with a visual impairment. I think many people move through their lives not really considering people with disabilities or thinking about issues related to disability. I hope your post opens some minds and some hearts.

  5. Hi Janice- these are great tips! Because of your caregiving expereince, I’d like to ask you a quick question. Please email me soon.


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