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Overcoming the 'Sneak Thief of Sight'

More than 2.2 million Americans have what is often called “the sneak thief of sight.” It’s a condition that can take away nearly half of a person’s vision before they even notice and experts believe that half of the people who have glaucoma don’t even know it.

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that causes blindness through damage to the optic nerve. The nerve is like a cable that sends images from the eye to the brain. There is no cure for glaucoma, but medication and/or surgery can slow or prevent further vision loss.

A person already suffering from glaucoma or blindness has to cope with living with this new disability, but it does not mean they have to lose their independence. A study found that older adults with glaucoma suffered more falls that resulted in an injury. But with the assistance of a professionally-trained or family caregiver, a person with glaucoma can continue living in their home while still staying safe.

Glaucoma and In-Home Safety

A fall-risk assessment can be helpful in determining the risks in the home for someone living with impaired vision. They should make sure no cords stick out, get rid of any loose or frayed rugs, and arrange the furniture so it is not an obstacle course.

There are several additional steps that experts recommend to make the home safer for a person with glaucoma. The BrightFocus Foundation says one of the biggest ways to help a person with vision loss is to improve lighting inside the home. This includes using overhead lights, under-cabinet lighting, and adding extra lighting in hallways and on any stairs. Additionally, a caregiver can help a person with glaucoma control glare inside the home. Glare can create different shadows that can be disorienting. The use of blinds and curtains makes a big difference with glare.

The BrightFocus Foundation also recommends installing grab bars in bathrooms, putting handrails of both sides of any stairs, and mark the edge of each step with brightly-colored tape. It’s also a good idea to put tape around the edge of a bathtub, use non-skid, brightly-colored mats on the bathroom floor. Bright colors can help all around the bathroom, from towels to the toilet seat.

The Mayo Clinic also recommends that people with glaucoma eat a healthy diet, because some vitamins and nutrients can help improve vision. While a healthy diet won’t prevent glaucoma from worsening, there are some foods to avoid. High amounts of caffeine can increase eye pressure and so can drinking too much of any liquid at one time – it’s best to space fluids out frequently over the day. Exercise may also reduce eye pressure for some forms of glaucoma.

Perhaps most importantly, people with developing glaucoma should not ignore it. The Glaucoma Research Foundation ( encourages everyone to talk about it. If you want to learn more, you can request a free educational booklet.

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