‘Get your eyes checked’ – Jean Engholm's Story

Jean Engholm demonstrates a CCTV digital magnifying device to see the numbers on a telephoneDiagnosed with glaucoma in 1976 during a general medical exam, Jean Engholm has had a long time to adapt to the condition that damages the eye’s optic nerve and results in vision loss.

Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of vision loss in seniors in Canada after age-related macular degeneration.

The CNIB estimates only half of them know they are living with the vision-threatening eye disease.

Engholm, 83, brings sage advice in the leadup to March 6 -12 — World Glaucoma Week: “Get your eyes checked,” especially if you are noticing changes in your vision.

According to the CNIB, many glaucoma patients just accept vision loss as part of the aging process and don’t seek help.

As a result, many of them live in isolation and depression.

“We are all very conscious of it, people try to hide it but it is the biggest barrier that you can put in the way of getting help,” Engholm said. “If you acknowledge it, you will get help.”

Life is short and you have to make the best of it, said Engholm, who has adopted many ways of coping with her vision loss.

She has used CNIB services since the early 1990s, which she calls “immensely helpful.”

Her home at Chartwell Thunder Bay Retirement Residence is well organized with numerous gadgets to help her keep her independence.

One device she uses a lot is a talking clock to help keep on time, another is a device that one puts on the rim of a glass and beeps when the glass is full.

She uses duct tape as guides on walls, counters and door frames.

The CNIB helped access a CCTV digital reading device that magnifies even the tinniest of print.

Engholm has also benefited from audio books and the Vision Mate program that matches volunteers with individuals with vision loss to provide sighted assistance.

At Chartwell, Engholm has worked with other residents who have vision loss to make improvements and create a support for each other.

“People want to help and if you have something specific that you would like help with they are so glad to help,” said Engholm on the generosity of others.

One example she gave was an individual who has now read two books to her.

Post-vision loss rehab therapy, provided by CNIB, can mean the difference between living a life of isolation and living an independent, active and confident life.

Anyone who has experienced a loss of vision should ask their eye doctor for a referral to CNIB so they can learn how to make the most out of their sight and restore abilities that are critical to their safety, mobility and independence.

Engholm likes to say, “Don’t look back at what you can’t do, look ahead at what you can do.”

This story was originally published in The Chronicle Journal