Communicating Your Needs to Others: Aging and Vision Loss

Older person using a smartphone

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 changes 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 need to advocate for ourselves to function healthily and productively. 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 the need for transportation because you can no longer drive. Here are some points to remember as you communicate your needs to others.

  • Effective communication combines listening skills and the capacity to understand emotions—both your own and those of the person you are communicating with. 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, 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 the tone of voice and even an awareness of breathing rate 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 spontaneously! Practice listening for inflections in tone of voice in general conversation before you 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.
  • Individual differences can be a beautiful thing. We all bring our history, culture, and 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 on how others may best assist you 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 can accomplish other tasks independently. Just because you have always painted your house alone doesn’t mean you still can or even want to continue. But you may still be able to balance your checkbook and be 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 an aging person who is blind or low vision. For more ideas on helping others understand what you can do and 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 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 to communicate your needs.
  6. Try to assess 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 occasional rides, hiring a driver, or taking public transportation.
  7. Understand that others will not always be able to provide what you are asking for. 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 listen actively. Listen to the speaker’s tone of voice and breathing patterns. 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 your assistance by offering favors or sometimes payment. Otherwise, you may “wear out your welcome.” For example, if a neighbor provides a ride to church or 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 changes, 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. Remember that you have the right to advocate for yourself and ask for what you need.