Regular hearing and vision tests are important as we age. Impaired sight and sound can cause the elderly to withdraw from family and friends. (Tribune file photo)

What you can do to help

Light the room brightly and use more than one non-glare light in a room.

Use blinds or shades to reduce glare.

Keep a night light on in the bedroom, hallway and bathroom.

Increase lighting on stairwells and steps.

Mark the edge of steps with a brightly colored tape or different colored paint. Paint handrails.

Turn lighting away from the TV to avoid glare.

Use concentrated light for reading.

Provide audio books and music for cognitive simulation, entertainment and relaxation.

Know the warning signs of possible vision problems: pain in and around the eyes, excessive tearing or discharge, double vision, dimness or distortion of vision, flashes of light, halos or floating spots, swelling of the eyelids, protruding eye, changes in eye color.

For someone with hearing problems:

Sensory challenges

A new report from the National Center for Health Statistics documents hearing and vision problems in people age 70 and older. Reviewing national data from 1999 to 2006, researchers found that 15.4 percent had vision problems and 26.3 percent had hearing impairments.

As we age, these difficulties accelerate: Twice as many 80-somethings reported compromised hearing and vision as 70-something seniors.

Poverty compounds the problem when older men and women put off getting medical attention and buying eyeglasses or hearing aids that can help correct sensory deficiencies. Indeed, vision problems are 50 percent more likely among impoverished seniors.

But unmet needs extend well beyond those with limited resources. Nearly 60 percent of older adults with vision problems don't use eyeglasses or have glasses that don't adequately correct their problems, the new report notes. Almost 80 percent of seniors with hearing loss in at least one ear aren't using hearing aids when they should.

Financial issues may be responsible, at least in part. Medicare doesn't pay for glasses or hearing aids, except under limited circumstances, forcing seniors to come up with the money, which many can't.

— J.G.

For someone with vision problems:

Get the older person's attention before speaking.

Look directly at his or her face.

Speak clearly, not too fast nor too slow. Don't shout.

Try using different phrases with the same meaning if you're not getting your point across.

Use facial expressions or gestures to give useful clues.

Repeat yourself if necessary, using different words.

Eliminate background noise from radio or television.

Build breaks into your conversation.

Ask how you can help.

Source: University of Florida