Communicating Your Needs to Others: Aging and Vision Loss

Communicating your needs effectively requires clearly defining for yourself what it is that you need. Defining your needs allows you to express them clearly so that you will be more likely to get those needs met. This sounds simple but often becomes more complicated when aging and vision loss intervene. Aging well with vision loss may necessitate learning a new skill set in evaluating your needs and in asking for help.

Self-Advocacy Skills for Seniors with Vision Loss

We all have the need to advocate for ourselves in order to function in a healthy and productive manner. Establish the mindset that it is okay to ask for what you need. The key is knowing when and how to ask.

As a senior with vision loss, you may sometimes experience a need for assistance in tasks that others may take for granted such as in the need for transportation because you can no longer drive. Here are some points to keep in mind as you communicate your needs to others.

  • Effective communication combines a set of skills that require listening and the capacity to understand emotions—both your own and those of the person with whom you are communicating. Nonverbal cues are usually a part of this skill set. But this is where you, as a person with low vision, will have to rely on other cues such as tone of voice in order to listen effectively. You may no longer be able to gauge another's facial expression, body language, gestures, eye contact and muscle tension. Paying attention to tone of voice and even an awareness of rate of breathing will have to substitute for reading body language in your new skill set.
  • Effective communication is somewhat spontaneous. Of course, it takes time to learn to express your needs in a manner that uses your learned skill set in a spontaneous manner! Practice listening for inflections in tone of voice in general conversation before you need to exercise your skills in asking others for assistance. And keep in mind that effective communication is a two-way street. Ideally, the conversation flows back and forth in a manner that is natural and comfortable for those involved in the conversation.
  • Individual differences can be a beautiful thing. Be aware that all of us bring our history, our culture, our knowledge to every communication. Communication is a part of who we are. It becomes necessary that each communication be treated a bit differently. Learning to read the situation is a skill that may take some time if you have not already mastered it.

12 Tips for Communicating Successfully

Ideas to consider when asking for what you need:

  1. Remember that you are the expert regarding how others may best assist you as a person with vision problems. You may need to help them understand what you are experiencing.
  2. Be realistic about your needs as you age. Accept that a gradual decline in activity associated with aging may make it unrealistic to do all the things you once did. Tasks such as climbing a ladder to clear leaves from the gutters on your house might be wisely left to others, either family members or paid helpers.
  3. Conversely, let others know that you are fully capable of accomplishing other tasks independently. Just because you have always painted your house by yourself doesn't mean that you still can or that you even want to continue to do so. But, you may still be fully capable of balancing your checkbook and unwilling to let others take over this responsibility. Realistically evaluating what you are still capable of doing may be one of the more difficult tasks you face as a person who is aging with vision loss. For more ideas on helping others understand what you are capable of doing and for evaluating your needs visit Help Others Understand Your Vision Problems.
  4. Use tact and good manners when asking for or declining assistance but don't let manners be a substitute for honesty in expressing what you need.
  5. Be assertive. Remember that assertiveness does not mean being aggressive. Keep emotions in check. Use an even, pleasant and confident tone of voice as you communicate your needs. For more information on communication visit Communication Tips
  6. Try to assess the situation with regard to your needs and the resources available to you. If your doctor has indicated that you should no longer drive, you'll be faced with locating transportation options and planning your errands, appointments, and social engagements accordingly. Make the best decision based on the options available to you. Your options may include asking others for rides on occasion, hiring a driver, or taking public transportation.
  7. Understand that it will not always be possible for others to provide what you are asking for. Be respectful of this and don't take it as a sign that others dislike you.
  8. Be specific and descriptive in expressing the assistance that you need. For example, ask another to let you take their arm as a guide when traveling. Be tactful but confident if the guide tries to pull you along instead of offering her arm to you. Offer firm but gentle instructions as to how they may guide you.
  9. Communicating is about more than talking. Learn to actively listen. Use your skills in listening to the tone of voice and to breathing patterns of the speaker. Recognize that silence does not necessarily mean agreement.
  10. Be sensitive as to when you may be imposing on others. And be prepared to reciprocate for the assistance you receive by offering favors or sometimes payment. Otherwise you may "wear out your welcome." For example, if a neighbor provides a ride to church or to the grocery store for you, offer to pay for the gas.
  11. As with other life skills, practice makes perfect. Strive to refine your communication skills as you adjust to vision loss, develop new skills, and develop ways to ask for what you need.
  12. Everyone likes to feel appreciated so don't forget to express your appreciation to those who assist you.

Most problems have workable solutions. Just remember that you have the right to advocate for yourself and to ask for what you need.

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