Sparking New Ideas for Serving Seniors
Earlier this month, I attended the national convention for the American Council of the Blind (ACB), in Sparks, NV. This annual convention offers an opportunity for people across the country who are blind or have low vision, together with rehabilitation agencies and affiliated organizations to come together to discuss ideas, trends and concerns.
One area of great interest and concern is services to older adults with vision loss. I had the opportunity to participate on a panel at the ACB Convention to address this issue. According to the 2015 National Health Interview Survey, for the population of people 65 and older, 6.9 million, or nearly 15% have trouble seeing. And this number is only going to increase with the aging population in the U.S.
Currently, the primary source of funding for services to seniors with vision loss is through the federal Independent Living Services for Older Individuals who are Blind program. It is the single national resource intended to make comprehensive vision rehabilitation services and devices available to this large and quickly expanding population. The program provides $33.4 million for the entire country and states provide matching funds. In CA, the total available is $3.2 million.
Sadly, less than 2% of the eligible population of seniors, or about 60,000 people, are actually receiving these services. In part, many seniors are not aware of the resources available at centers such as Society for the Blind. For others, they live in small or rural communities that do not provide these services. Vision loss puts our seniors at higher risk of falls and increases the need for institutionalization.
To help us reach more seniors in the coming years while also contending with limited resources, partnerships and collaborations are critical. Society is working with a number of senior residential facilities to offer programs on site. Grants such as the one we recently received from the City of Roseville provide transportation so seniors can come to Society for our training programs or visit our Low Vision Clinic in Roseville.
Society is committed to working with other agencies, community partners and to securing more funders to ensure that seniors experiencing vision loss are aware of the resources available and are able to participate in our Senior IMPACT Project. We want our seniors to learn the skills so they can maintain their independence and age with grace and dignity.