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October 23, 2023/Health Conditions/Eye Care

Do You Have Diabetes-Related Macular Edema? Consider Making Home Modifications in These 5 Areas

Installing grab bars and taping down area rugs may make navigating life with vision loss easier

Person in home has a clear pathway to the sofa and chair without tripping.

If you’re living with vision loss due to diabetes-related macular edema (DME), you’re probably making a lot of changes. You’re seeing new doctors, getting additional help managing your blood sugar and undergoing new treatments. It can be lot to handle.

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But that’s not all. You’re also learning how to go about your daily life with a vision impairment. Doing laundry, cooking, taking your medication: It can all be a little harder than it used to be. And it can make home sweet home feel less like a refuge and more like an obstacle course.

Luckily, there are lots of little changes you can make to your home to make it more DME-friendly. We talked to ophthalmologist Nicole Bajic, MD, about five different kinds of home modifications that can make navigating life with DME vision loss easier.

1. Reduce fall risks

Vision loss increases your chances of taking a tumble. That risk is even higher if you’re also experiencing diabetes-related nerve damage. That’s why Dr. Bajic says it’s important to assess and address any tripping hazards in your house. That includes:

  • Rearranging your furniture. The fewer obstructions in your path as you move from room to room, the less likely you are to run into something. It’s especially important to move furniture that’s low to the ground, like coffee tables.
  • Clearing out clutter. The less stuff you accumulate, the less often you’re going to drop it or trip over it. If you have poor vision, living in an organized home will also make it easier to perform day-to-day tasks. More on that later.
  • Securing or removing rugs. “Area rugs can be a big problem for people with DME vision loss,” Dr. Bajic notes. The best course of action is to remove them. If you aren’t comfortable doing that, tape them to the floor so there’s no risk of tripping over a rogue corner.
  • Marking your stairs. Put colorful tape oranti-slip stair treads on any steps in your home so you can see them more clearly.
  • Using a tub mat or anti-slip stickers. Using a mat (or anti-slip stickers) in your tub or shower is a great way to prevent a nasty slip and fall. If you have a reglazed tub, be sure to use a non-suction mat. You can also find nonslip mats for use in other areas on your home.
  • Containing your cords. Coil or tape your cords to the wall to avoid tripping on them. Don’t worry: You can always get a paintable cord cover to keep things looking neat and clean.
  • Using ramps. If you’re no longer able to use stairs comfortably — due to DME or any other health complication — price out some ramps with handrails. You might be surprised by how affordable they can be.
  • Install handrails and grab bars. Having handrails and grab bars strategically placed throughout your home reduces your likelihood of falling when transitioning from sitting to standing. If you have a caregiver who assists you with getting out of bed, using the toilet or showering, they’ll be happy for the support, too!
  • Getting new flooring installed. If the floors in your home are extremely slippery, it may be time to invest in new ones. Many manufacturers offer slip-resistant options. If you live in the United States, look for ADA-compliant flooring.
  • Installing low or no threshold entryways. If you don’t feel safe getting in and out of your shower — or going in and out of your front door — it might be worth looking into low- or no-threshold options. If that’s too pricey to swing, look into beveled or portable threshold ramps. You can also install doorframe grab bars.

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2. Get organized

Maybe you’re the tidy type. Maybe you’re not. Either way, living with DME vision loss is probably going to mean rethinking your organizational system a little bit. But it’s worth the time: Having “a place for everything and everything in its place” will save you a lot of frustration.

Here are a few quick and easy ways to make your stuff easier to find:

  • Use rubber bands. Can’t tell the difference between your body wash and your shampoo? Put a rubber band around one of the bottles. Create a system so you remember which household items get rubber bands. For example, put the rubber band around whichever item would come first in an alphabetical list.
  • Use colorful or textured labels. Large-print, colorful labels can make it easier to distinguish the items in your home. You can also get adhesive “bump dots” in a variety of sizes, colors and textures. If you’re comfortable with braille, you may benefit from getting a braille label maker.
  • Sort by type. If all of your shorts are in the same drawer, for example, you’ll always know where to look for them. From there, you can use safety pins or large, colorful fabric labels to distinguish between the different styles and colors. The same rule applies elsewhere, like your fridge, your medicine cabinet and even your bookshelf.

3. Use assistive devices

There’s a whole wide world of assistive devices out there that you may not already be aware of. Some of them are high-tech, while others (like the humble magnifying glass) have been around for centuries. Check out the following items to see which, if any, would make your life easier!

  • Telescopic glasses.
  • Prism glasses.
  • Portable digital magnifiers and stand magnifiers.
  • Audiobooks and screen readers.
  • Text-to-speech programs.
  • Canes with marshmallow ball tips.
  • Image descriptions and alt text for web surfing.
  • Large print and high contrast computer keyboards.
  • Prescription bottle readers.
  • Large-print texts and line trackers.

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4. Let there be light

If you’re experiencing vision loss as a result of DME, it’s time to ditch the mood lighting. Overhead and natural light are especially helpful for navigating your home. You can also get magnifying devices that include lights — they’re especially helpful when you’re doing close work, like reading or knitting.

5. Create contrast

If you’ve been looking for a reason to redecorate, you’ve got one now! Bright colors and high-contrast home décor can be incredibly helpful for keeping you oriented. Here are a few examples:

  • Consider getting a brightly colored toilet lid (not a lid cover — those require frequent washing) so you can find the toilet easily in your bathroom.
  • If you have white floors, get a black bathmat, so it’s easy to see where you need to step to get into the shower.
  • If you don’t want to change your furniture, invest in bright pillows, throw blankets and towels that will stand out against your current décor.

Pick what fits — and leave the rest

Right now you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed by the size of the DME honey-do list we’ve compiled. It’s totally understandable. Vision loss is tough enough as it is — changing your house on top of that is a lot to ask! But before you get too discouraged, let’s take a step back.

Our list of DME-friendly home modifications is long because different people experience different degrees of vision impairment as a result of the condition.

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“The home modifications you need to make really depend on your current functional status,” Dr. Bajic explains. In other words, not everything on this list is going to be necessary for your particular situation. If you’re dealing with mild vision impairment, a marshmallow ball cane is overkill. And if you’re nearing total vision loss, colorful labels aren’t going to work.

DME is also a progressive condition: It can change over time, for better or for worse. That means it’s OK to take a piecemeal approach to home modification. You can only do what you can do — and something is better than nothing.

Know your resources

It’s also important to remember that you aren’t alone in this journey. If you’re not sure what home modifications are right for you, speak to your primary care provider, your ophthalmologist and — if you have one — your low-vision specialist.

“A lot of people are really resistant to the idea of going to a low-vision specialist because they think a person needs to be legally blind to take that step.” Dr. Bajic says. “But that’s not true. I think it’s very valuable for anybody with significant vision loss — especially if you’re agreeable to your provider’s suggestions.”

A low-vision specialist can help you figure out what devices and behavior changes will improve your daily life. If you don’t have access to a low-vision specialist, you can also get tips and tricks from support groups, online forums and organizations like Living Well With Low Vision.

If you’re worried about how you’re going to pay for home modifications, consider applying for a housing adaptation grant or loan. There are also plenty of nonprofit and volunteer groups that help people living with vision loss make home renovations. And while it might not always be easy to ask, your friends, family, caregivers and community may also be able to help.

DME vision loss can make it hard to feel safe in your space. But modifying your home to fit your needs won’t just make it easier to go about your day-to-day activities: It will also help you regain your sense of control and independence. That’s work worth doing.

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