Local Woman Lives Independently With Macular Degeneration
By Kristin Thébaud
West Sacramento, CA (MPG) – Hazel Phillips of Woodland used to just pick up and drive to Los Angeles for the weekend when she wanted to get out of town.
“If I wanted to go somewhere, I never hesitated about driving,” Phillips said.
But in 2002, the then-81-year-old had begun to notice that lights seemed dimmer. Driving home from exercising at the Woodland Senior Center one day, she realized she couldn’t see the traffic signal. She parked her car and never drove again, despite an unblemished 50-year driving record.
“I just knew I couldn’t drive anymore and I accepted that,” Phillips said. “The only thing on my mind at the beginning was that I knew I didn’t want to just sit in a chair for the rest of my life.”
Not long after, she was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration. According to the National Eye Institute, age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss among people age 50 and older, damaging the part of the eye needed for sharp, central vision and seeing objects straight ahead. As it progresses, it often causes a blurred area near the center of vision.
After her diagnosis, Phillips was referred to the nonprofit Society for the Blind in Sacramento where, over the course of several weeks, she received one-on-one training in how to walk with a cane, safely cook and live her life.
A year later, when Society for the Blind started its Senior IMPACT Project, they called her and a few friends to pilot the new program.
The Senior IMPACT Project is now an eight-day retreat helping adults ages 55 and older focus on alternative, non-visual techniques and skills that enable them to perform day-to-day tasks and activities so they can maintain their independence. They focus on four core skills: orientation and mobility, Braille, adaptive technology and independent living skills. Students learn how to travel safely, efficiently and independently inside their home and in public. They learn how to use alternative techniques and tools to navigate day-to-day tasks such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, home maintenance, organization, personal finance, and using Braille to read, write and access technology. Participants are trained in all aspects of computer use appropriate to their interests and skill levels, including email, Internet access, completing online forms, shopping and banking online, and creating documents.
“Everything we learned in the Senior IMPACT Project was important,” Phillips said.
For six years, she even served as a mentor in the program. “It felt wonderful to mentor,” she said. “Each time not only was I sharing my skills with them, I was learning too. I was honing my skills.”
The 95-year-old has retired from mentoring, but she still travels around town with the help of her nieces, transportation from the senior center and her trusted white cane she named Charlie.
“I’ve seen so many people get so angry when they start to lose their vision. For anyone who is living with vision loss and scared to get help, I would tell them there’s too much to life,” Phillips said. “Just stop and think what you’ll be able to do after your training. Now I think of my blindness as just a bump in the road.”
For more information about Society for the Blind’s Senior IMPACT Project, visit www.societyfortheblind.org/programs-services/programs-for-55. To schedule a low vision evaluation in Society for the Blind’s Low Vision Clinic, call (916) 452-8271 x505.
For 60 years, Society for the Blind has created innovative ways to empower individuals living with low vision or blindness to discover, develop and achieve their full potential. Society for the Blind has grown from a dedicated group of volunteers that included the Lions Clubs of America to a nationally recognized agency and the only rehabilitative teaching center for a 26-county region of northern California. The nonprofit provides low-vision eye care, life and job skills training, mentorship, and access to tools to maintain independence for 6,000 youth, adults and seniors experiencing vision loss. For more information or to make a donation, visit www.societyfortheblind.org.