Vision issues and the aging workforce

Blog | Vision issues and the aging workforce

An aging workforce presents an employer with a number of unique challenges, including the potential for higher health care costs and increased chances for an employee to become ill or injured and require a disability leave.

And when you consider health issues common among older workers, you’re likely thinking about musculoskeletal issues or heart disease. But have you considered vision loss? Older workers could be affected by vision-related disabilities that arise later in life. When this is the case, how can you help accommodate them at work?

  1. Understand the common vision impairments associated with age.
    • Cataracts: Cataracts occur due to clouding of the eye’s lens. It can result in cloudy or blurry vision, faded colors, double vision and poor night vision.1
    • Glaucoma: Excess fluid builds up inside the eye and can damage the eye’s optic nerve. Vision loss due to glaucoma can happen quickly, but early treatment can protect against serious vision loss.2
    • Macular degeneration: This disease causes dysfunction of the macula, which is the area in the center of the retina at the back of the eye and is responsible for making sharp, central vision possible. Symptoms include blurry, distorted or dark vision.3
  1. Review their functional abilities to determine the right accommodation.

When assisting an employee with vision loss, it’s important to connect with your disability carrier or other health-related program — such as an employee assistance program (EAP) — early on. From there, a consultant likely will schedule a low-vision assessment. This screening is professionally administered and can help determine which technologies or tools will be useful for that specific employee and his or her job function.

The assessment likely will include an eye examination as well as a visual performance review, which assesses the ability to focus upon an object with both eyes, face and object recognition, reading ability, color vision and more. Then, accommodations can be recommended. These accommodations may include any number of helpful tools, including bigger computer screens and magnification software, portable electronic magnifiers or closed-circuit television (CCTV) technology — a device that uses a camera to project enlarged images of documents onto a screen. Keep in mind that some of these conditions can be progressive, and this should be taken into account when determining the correct accommodation.

Of course, these accommodations will vary because each situation, job function and individual is unique. Keep the lines of communication open with your aging workforce to help them understand retirement is not the only option when vision issues present themselves.

1Minority Women’s Health: Glaucoma and cataracts. The Office on Women’s Health website. Updated May 18, 2010. Accessed December 17, 2014.
2Common Eye Disorders. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated April 23, 2013. Accessed December 17, 2014.
3Facts About Age-Related Macular Degeneration. National Eye Institute website. Updated July 2013. Accessed December 17, 2014.

About guest blogger Julie Sliga
Julie Sliga is a vocational case manager with Standard Insurance Company, specializing in blindness and vision loss. In her role, Julie helps employees with vision-related disability claims stay at work or return to work by identifying transferable skills, recommending alternate occupations and modifying worksite locations. Julie holds a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation counseling from the University of Wisconsin – Stout.

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