$85,000 vision program aims to assist growing elderly population Office on Aging, Easter Seal Society launch effort

March 04, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Office on Aging and the Easter Seal Society for Disabled Children and Adults Inc. are joining forces to launch an $85,000 vision program for seniors with premature sight loss.

The Low Vision Rehabilitation Program will be introduced by Easter Seal and county officials at a kick-off reception this morningat Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia.

The program is designed to help the county's fast-growing elderly population, many of whom are forced to deal with a loss of vision -- often caused by strokes, glaucoma, and various diseases.

"As somebody loses his vision, the risk of an accident increases, safety is compromised, and day-to-day needs are compromised," said Lisa Reeves, vice president of program services for Easter Seal. "The goal is to help them do everything they did [before loss of sight]."

More than 3 million Americans -- one out of 20 -- have low vision, which is defined as sight difficulty even with the aid of corrective lenses or after surgery, according to Easter Seal statistics.

The program links participants with occupational therapists, who visit the homes of those who have vision loss and offer techniques to compensate for low vision.

For instance, color codes can be used on medication bottles, easy-to-read numbers can be installed on phones and regular light bulbs can be replaced by bulbs that emit softer light to reduce glare.

The program also offers vocational assistance, such as installing computer screens with bigger type and keyboards imprinted with Braille symbols.

"Easter Seal's mission is to help people with disabilities live independently and with dignity," Reeves said. "Those issues are tied together."

Participants are eligible only after recommendations from their physicians. Medicare and other insurance programs can be used to pay the costs.

Easter Seal officials estimate that those benefits will pay $35,000 of the program's cost. Private contributions collected by Easter Seal account for $20,000, and start-up funds from the state Department of Education's Division of Rehabilitation Services account for $30,000.

Howard County had 20,507 people over the age of 60 in 1995 -- 9.4 percent of the county population. According to Office on Aging projections, that number is expected to grow to 23,971 -- or 10.5 percent -- in 2000.

And by 2010, county officials estimate that the number of seniors will almost double to 46,637 -- more than 19 percent of Howard's population.

With those projections, Barbara Harris, long-term care division manager for the county Office on Aging, said it was an easy decision to join forces with the Easter Seal Society.

Harris said one of the most important elements of the program is its at-home attention for seniors who don't own cars or don't have access to public transportation.

Pub Date: 3/04/97

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