Slightly Retired

"Most of us take our everyday world for granted--a world designed for the healthy, sighted and hearing. But sometimes, our world gets a hole knocked in it -- then what do we do? I've been very fortunate; I found myself feeling twice blessed this past week, as my vision problem was solved with a cornea transplant. But this was only possible through a compassionate loving gift of someone I never knew. Sadly, others may lose all or part of their sight and nothing can restore it.On South Whidbey, Senior Services is organizing a support group to meet once a month at the Bayview Senior Center for people of any age experiencing vision loss due to macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma or other eye problems. Also included and welcome are their caregivers, spouses, adult children and friends.Senior Services staff members Vicki Staley, information and assistance program director, and Jerry Bullard, volunteer chore coordinator, are involved in the support group planning. We want to provide a time, place and focus for those experiencing vision difficulties so they can meet, exchange experiences, share problems, gain new information and laugh, Bullard said. He also noted that the support group will design their own meetings, possibly to include guest speakers knowledgeable in specific areas, such as the latest eye research, problem solving, assistance for day-to-day problems, and demonstrations of visual aids -- including seeing eye dogs.As our population's life span increases, so also do the number of people diagnosed with an eye disease. Maxine Sanders, another member of the organizing group, speaks from first-hand experience. No one knows what causes macular degeneration, she said. There is no cure, no prevention. It sometimes arrests itself, sometimes not; it has to be lived with on a day-to-day basis. Much more funding is needed for eye research.Sanders talks freely about how different and scary the world became for her when her sight began deteriorating. She told of seeking assistance from a variety of professional and spiritual sources, and of finding ways through that search to function independently and to begin once again enjoying life. Sanders laughs as she describes the special glasses she wears for threading a needle. Wouldn't you know, I retired, looking forward to spending more time with my quilting and needlework, only to find I couldn't thread a needle. Trying to hold a needle, thread and magnifying glass just didn't work, but now my special odd looking sewing glasses enable me to enjoy sewing as much as I ever did, she said.Sanders mentions other available aids, such as the ones she uses for her computer and phone-- I love my computer, she said. She also points out the need to have a positive outlook. And she found that taking the step to talk with other people proved to be a great help for her.Also assisting with the support group will be Denise Massey Smith, a rehabilitative specialist with the Washington State Dept. of Services for the Blind, serving Whatcom and Island Counties. I love my work because it gives me a chance to hook up people having vision problems with the many services available, Smith said. I go into homes, a free service provided under county grants, talk to one person or maybe a whole family about their problems or needs and try to provide help. For instance, Smith said, she might assist with the placement of furniture and the arrangement of cabinet and shelf items. She might provide support to someone mourning their loss, or information and instruction on the multitude of aids available and where to get them.Smith has helped launch an active group in Whatcom County and hopes this one in Island County will be as successful. She adds, We aren't always serious, we do a lot of laughing. We like to have caregivers, family and friends join us. Sometimes we can help give them a different perspective on ways to promote independence and confidence in someone with diminishing sight.The first session of the support group will be on Monday, Oct. 9, at 10 a.m. at the Bayview Senior Center. The organizers ask that the word be spread, since flyers and newspapers are often a part of only the visible world.For more information, phone Denise Massey Smith, 360-671-0190 (Bellingham); leave your name and number and she will return the call. If transportation is needed and/or information, call Jerry Bullard at the Senior Center, 321-1600. "

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