How I Plan for Specific Tasks With Geographic Atrophy

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How I Plan for Specific Tasks With Geographic Atrophy


By Joan Kathryn, as told to Keri Wiginton 

I’m 79 now, and my doctor diagnosed me with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in 2008. Over the past 15 years, I’ve developed wet AMD in my left eye and geographic atrophy (GA) in both eyes. 

I don’t like to call attention to myself, and people often don’t realize I have vision issues. But I have blank spots that make it harder to recognize faraway faces, read fine print, or find small objects. 

GA causes vision loss slowly, and I’ve learned to adapt over the years. But don’t get me wrong, AMD can be aggravating. For example, I can’t see my granddaughter’s facial expressions in a play, even when I can spot her on stage. 

In some ways, missing out on the nuances of daily life is the worst part of this disease. But I have some tips and tricks to tackle everyday tasks.  

How I Cook With Vision Loss

GA affects my central vision. I may not be able to see something when I look directly at it. And cooking is usually time sensitive, so it’s frustrating when I can’t find what I need. But I can work around my blank spots in the kitchen.

I lay things out in the order I think I’ll need them. That includes tools like measuring spoons, cups, spatulas, wooden spoons, tongs, or forks. And I do the same for ingredients like spices, vanilla extract, sugar, or flour. 

I also try to put everything back in its original spot, which is easier said than done. I still misplace things if I’m not careful. For example, I may not be able to find a spatula or spoon if I need to stir something quickly and forget to put the utensil back in its designated place.

My black cutting board is also a big help. The dark boosts the contrast between light vegetables like onions or garlic so I can see them better.

And I have a small OttLite on my kitchen countertop. This type of task lamp boosts contrast and brightness without adding glare. The one I use also has a magnifier, which helps me read the fine print on recipes, medicine bottles, prescriptions, receipts, and several other things. 

Tips for Recognizing People

I can make out the facial details of folks within talking distance. But things get a little cloudy when I try to recognize people who are farther than a few feet away. Some strategies help me figure out who people are.

For example, my grandkids play sports. And I find that I can tell who they are if I know their jersey number since those are usually well-defined on their uniform. But I wish I had earbuds to give me a play-by-play. Because how several times can you ask: Was that my grandson that made the basket?

And I do pick up on body language a lot more. For instance, I can typically tell my son apart from the other men in his adult soccer league based on his movements alone. But some social situations still feel awkward.

Recently, I was at my oldest grandson’s black-tie wedding. It was a destination event, and everyone stayed at the same hotel. I spotted a group of folks about 20 feet from the coffee station. I thought I’d met them the night before, but I cann’t be sure without getting a lot closer, which can come off as pretty weird to strangers. 

What did I do? I avoided them.

I’m always afraid people will think I’m rude when I don’t recognize them. And looking back, I probably can’ve walked over and said hello to the table. But what if they weren’t from our wedding party? That’s the kind of thing I’m still unsure how to handle.

How I Put on Eye Makeup With GA

I wanted to wear eye makeup for this black-tie wedding, something I’d mostly given up on because GA makes it hard to see fine details. At first, I thought about getting permanent liner tattooed on my eyelids or gluing in eyelash extensions. But both of those options seemed risky for someone with an eye disease. 

I realized I’d need to practice putting on the real thing. 

Applying mascara wasn’t a problem. But the first time I tried to put liquid eyeliner on, I drew it higher than I meant to. I tried again. But this time, I opted for an eyeliner pencil, which is more forgiving. And I didn’t worry about getting a straight line down all at once. 

I cann’t see my lash line but can feel it with my finger. As a result, I can get the liner as low as I wanted. Then I looked in the magnifying mirror and connected the dots into a line. And I didn’t put the liner across my whole eyelid. I focused on the outer edges and my lower lash line. 

A little eyeliner may not make a big difference in my overall look, but the subtle change is enough for me.

Getting From Place to Place

My right eye is 20/40, so I can still drive. But I avoid freeways and prefer not to get behind the wheel at night or in the rain. And I always wear the right mix of corrective lenses. I typically don a pair of 3.0 magnifying readers over my regular contacts.

Although I can legally drive anywhere, I feel safest when I stay within the 5-mile radius of my home. I have no problems hopping in the car to go to the library, grocery store, or a neighbor’s house. But I have to plan for trips that take me farther away, including to the doctor’s office or some shopping trips.

If I don’t want to drive myself somewhere, I can and have used rideshare services. But I prefer getting around town with my husband of 60 years, and sometimes we make an afternoon of it. We go out for lunch, or he brings something to read while he waits.

Let People Know About Your Sight Challenges

I recently said I’m visually impaired for the first time. It came up because my husband and I were flying across the country, and I’d somehow downloaded the wrong boarding pass to my phone. The mobile version had my husband’s name, but I hadn’t noticed the error because of the small print.

They mightn’t let me on the plane without my ticket. 

I felt panicked when I looked behind me at the long line of people waiting to board. I didn’t want to fumble around to find my glasses, and I didn’t know how to look for another boarding pass on my phone. And so, I asked the person at the desk to print out physical copies of my tickets: one for that flight and another for a connecting flight.

But when I rushed back to the gate, I cann’t tell which ticket was for which flight. That’s when I said it! And once I let the attendant know about my vision impairment, she immediately became attentive and helpful. I was surprised at how fast she changed her attitude but felt reassured by the experience.


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