Learn to Use Your Other Senses to Help You Cope with Blindness and Vision Loss
Losing Your Vision Doesn't Have to Mean Losing Your Confidence
Throughout your life, your vision has likely been your primary sense. Some researchers estimate that the sense of sight provides approximately 80% of all the information we receive about the world. You've probably been using your vision, unconsciously for the most part, to double-check the accuracy of your other senses.
For example, when you hear a siren from a fire engine, your tendency is to confirm that it is indeed a fire engine by turning to look at it. Because of this tendency, you may feel less confident about your other senses when you can't depend upon vision in the way you're used to.
In time, and with training, you can learn to make maximum use of all your senses — touch, hearing, smell, and any remaining vision — as well as improve your visual memory. Gradually, with practice in sensory exercises and successful new experiences, you will begin to trust your other senses and rebuild your confidence.
Using Your Visual Memory
Visualization, or using your visual memory, is a process that can help you consciously form accurate mental pictures of people, places, and everyday objects. You can learn to do this by using and recalling the vast storehouse of visual memories and information you've accumulated throughout your lifetime.
For example, it's likely that you have the ability to create an accurate mental picture of every room in your home, as well as the individual items — furniture, appliances, and decorative objects — within each of those rooms.
By continuously and consciously creating this type of detailed mental picture, you'll be able to more accurately recall the location of doors, windows, major pieces of furniture, and potential hazards and obstacles in your home.
Use Your Remaining Vision
Try to use whatever remaining vision you have to the maximum extent possible. Despite what you may have read, using your remaining vision will not harm your eyes or cause your vision to decrease.
Also, remember to check the lighting in your home. Different types of lighting in certain areas may help you move about more safely and efficiently. Remember that it's possible to support your reduced vision with information that can be gained by learning to trust and rely on your other senses.
Maximize Your Sense of Hearing
Hearing often decreases with age, although the type and amount of hearing loss can differ from one person to the next. If you are having difficulty with your hearing, consider being tested by an audiologist. Regardless of how much remaining hearing you have, continue to use it to the maximum. If you concentrate on what you are hearing, and where sounds are coming from, you will be able to gain more information about your surroundings and begin to feel safer and more comfortable.
For example, try this sensory development exercise to help you locate an open doorway in your home:
- Walk slowly down any hallway in your home.
- As you walk, you will sense a "closed-in" feeling until you reach an open doorway.
- At that point, you will probably experience a sense of "openness" on your left or right side, depending on which side has the open doorway.
It will take time and practice before you are able to sense these changes. Be patient with yourself, but also celebrate the fact that you're learning new skills and increasing your sensory awareness.
If you're not comfortable walking alone, ask a family member or friend to practice with you, or use techniques that protect your upper and lower body as you walk inside your home. Also see Indoor Movement and Orientation for additional tips and techniques.
Maximize Your Senses of Smell and Taste
Smell and taste can be affected by a variety of medications; nevertheless, you should continue to use your senses of smell and taste as best you can. Be aware that if a family member or friend tells you that something smells pungent, but you believe it smells fragrant, you can both be correct. Being consistent in what you can identify is the most important factor.
Environmental and Sensory "Clues" In Your Home
In your home, you are surrounded by many sensory "clues" that can help you understand your environment. For example, your sense of hearing can provide much information about your home, both inside and outside.
Sounds such as the television or radio, a dripping faucet, a ticking clock, and motors turning on and off can help you form a picture of the interior of your home. Any sounds coming from the outside, such as birds, traffic, or children playing, will also help you build a mental image of your surroundings.
Other sensory "clues" can include:
- Textures underfoot, such as tile, wood, rugs, or linoleum, can help you to create a visual mental image of your surroundings.
- Air currents in the house, air conditioners, fans, or forced-air heat can also help you determine where you are and help you to remain oriented.
- Rooms that are different sizes will sound different from one other. A bathroom, for example, is usually small and contains hard surfaces, such as tiles and porcelain that can cause sounds to bounce and echo. A living room is larger, with rugs and soft furniture that can absorb and muffle sounds.
- Aromas can also provide useful room "clues," such as the scent of flowers in the living room, baking aromas in the kitchen, and detergent odors in the laundry room.
- As you approach your front door, especially if it is located in a foyer, you may experience a "closed in" feeling or sensation. This occurs because sounds are reflected from three very close walls. In a living room or larger space, you'll notice that sounds suddenly "fall away" because they take longer to reflect (or bounce) from wall to wall. The area around you will now feel more spacious and open.
An Indoor Visualization Exercise To Try
Try this visualization exercise to maximize your senses:
1. Pick a starting point. For example, stand in a doorway or by your favorite chair.
2. Walk slowly around the room in one direction. (At first, you might feel more comfortable having someone with you while you do this.) Touch and identify each major piece of furniture or feature in the room until you are back at your starting point.
3. Next, select a place where you usually sit. This can be a chair in the family room or at the kitchen table.
4. From this seat, try to locate and point to:
- The doorway
- A window in the room
- Major features in the room, such as the fireplace, sink, refrigerator, sofa, or bathtub.
5. With someone accompanying you, continue to move slowly through your house and ask yourself:
- What textures am I feeling under my feet? For example, the carpet in the living room will feel very different from the ceramic tiles in the bathroom and the linoleum in the kitchen.
- What smells am I aware of that can indicate I'm in a specific area of my home?
- Can I see a change in lighting or light levels as I move away from, or toward, a window?
Stimulate Your Visual Memory and Maximize Your Senses
The information you gather from these exercises can stimulate your visual memory and help you build a clear mental picture of every room in your home. They will also give you useful clues so you are able to more confidently move around your home and locate different areas and items.
These, and other, sensory exercises can help you maximize the use of all your senses. These sensory exercises will increase your sensory awareness and gradually build your confidence and ability to continue doing many day-to-day activities.
Repeat these exercises until they become natural and automatic ways to better understand your environment. Gradually, you will begin to feel much more in control, more comfortable and secure, and more confident.
- Father James Warnke: Living a Well-Integrated Life
Father Warnke, who was born with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) and glaucoma, has had a very successful series of careers as mental health counselor and Episcopal priest, to name just a few of his accomplishments.
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