Many people with diabetes have some degree of vision loss caused by their disease. This makes diabetes self-care more difficult. The American Diabetes Association estimates that 12,000 to 24,000 people in the United States lose their vision to diabetic retinopathy yearly. Diabetes also raises the risk of developing cataracts, glaucoma, and other eye conditions.
While these are scary numbers, but vision loss can be avoided. It can be avoided with good control of blood sugars and yearly dilated eye exams. Also, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI), “Newer and better treatments for diabetic retinopathy are now available…Talk with your eye care provider about what would be best for you. If you don’t have an eye care provider, get tips for finding one in your area in the NEI database.”
Testing blood sugars and injecting insulin are essential self-care tasks requiring accuracy and safe techniques. So, how does someone visually impaired learn to do these tasks independently? The good news is that it can be done with effort, practice, and key resources.
Tips for Good Diabetes Management
1. Request education and training from diabetes experts – Consult your care team (nutritionist, nurse, diabetes educator, doctor, pharmacist) and ensure they understand how your vision loss affects your ability to manage your disease. Additionally, learn all you can about your disease so you can participate in your care and advocate for your needs. Most insurance policies cover diabetes education and can be repeated yearly for refresher sessions. Learn about diabetes management from head to toe.
2. Request vision rehabilitation training and support – Contact vision rehabilitation services, a low vision clinic and/or your area agency on aging (if you are an older adult) to learn adapted ways to manage your diabetes. Vision specialists can help you learn problem-solving strategies and non-visual techniques. Likewise, they can teach you how to use adaptive devices to test blood sugars and inject insulin or refer you to someone who can. Read about how vision rehabilitation therapists can help.
3. Join a support group or consumer group – The Diabetes Action Network of the National Federation of the Blind and the Diabetics in Action of the American Council of the Blind provide support, resources, and advocacy for people with diabetes and vision loss.
4. Find out about the importance of A1c levels– The A1c blood test, also known as glycated hemoglobin, hemoglobin A1c, and HbA1c, is the primary tool used to diagnose diabetes and pre-diabetes and to monitor blood glucose control in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. This test enables healthcare providers to diagnose diabetes and treat it before complications occur and to diagnose pre-diabetes to prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes. For individuals with diabetes, it enables the tracking of good glucose control, which is critical for diabetes management.
Adaptive Devices for Diabetes Care
There are a variety of adaptive aids available for people with diabetes and vision loss through three main companies:
• Independent Living Aids – 800-537-2118
• LS&S – 800-468-4789
• Maxi-Aids – 800-522-6294
You can request product catalogs, order by phone, and shop online. Contact the manufacturer to get help learning how to use a device and check their website where you may find accessible instructional information on their products.
Here are some products to consider:
- Task lamps are an important tool to have when reading medicine labels, setting up weekly pill boxes, and drawing up insulin. Proper lighting can increase your visibility and accuracy.
- Hand-held magnifiers are useful to enlarge labels, read markings on syringes, and read product information. Remember that it is best to have the right strength of magnification prescribed by a low-vision specialist and to learn how to use a handheld magnifier for best results.
- Marking and labeling products help to identify medicine bottles, syringes, and insulin vials. There are a variety of bold marking pens, tape, bump dots, raised paint, and other tactile methods for labeling.
- Dosing tools like the Count-a-Dose device help to draw up insulin safely and measure it accurately. It holds the vial and syringe in place and gives auditory clicks to count the correct insulin dose.
- Syringe magnifiers and needle guides are useful tools for people with low vision. They enlarge markings on the barrel of syringes and protect against unwanted needle sticks and bent needles.
- Supply storage products like cases and wallets for carrying preloaded syringes and insulin bottles in cool temperatures for travel or work are available.
- Talking glucometers and meters with larger screens can help. There are many models to choose from, so ask a diabetes educator or vision rehabilitation therapist to recommend the best option. NOTE: Walmart carries its Reli-On brand of talking meters and strips for a great price. They also can order the Prodigy talking glucometer through their supplier upon request.