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Organizations, aids help with low vision

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POLSON — Baby boomers are aging, and as they age, eye problems often surface. Macular degeneration and glaucoma are two common diseases and can lead to low vision or blindness, although older people are not the only ones dealing with the problems.

To provide a forum for these folks, the Mission Valley Chapter of the Montana Association for the Blind and Low Vision meets monthly at the Polson Senior Citizens Center from fall through spring, with a summer break. 

“My big emphasis is: just because we are disabled doesn’t mean we have to quit living,” Roger Beckendorf, president of the chapter, said.

Before his eyesight was affected, he worked for the United States Forest Service for 27 years.

He lives as he preaches. Although he has dry macular degeneration and is legally blind, he likes to play golf and shoot pool. When he golfs, a friend comes along to drive the cart and tell him where to hit. 

At the May meeting, chapter members discussed their white canes. Not all of them use a cane, but those who do feel many Polsonites, pedestrians and motorists alike, don’t know what a white cane signifies. 

They also shared information about what programs and aids work for them. 

Talking Books has been around in Montana since 1938 and was recommended by all the members. Now Talking Books has updated to digital players.

Almost any book is available, according to Lois DuPuis, who founded the Mission Valley MAB chapter. DuPuis, who now lives in an assisted living facility, said she always has a couple of books going. She’s also writing her life story on her computer, which has voice-operated software. DuPuis and the other members of the club said MonTECH, located in Missoula, loans and exchanges equipment. One MonTECH programs allows people to check out an aid, such as a magnification device, for a month and see if it works in their life. It’s best to have an appointment, according to chapter member Kay Witham. 

Go to montech.ruralinstitute.umt.edu/mtdb/ for an explanation of services. 

Also blind and low vision services are offered as part of vocational rehabilitation under the umbrella of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services at www.dphhs.mt.gov/vocrehab/blvs.

Witham and Noel Walther will be attending the summer orientation program sponsored by the Montana Association for the Blind from mid-June to the week after the Fourth of July on the Carroll College campus in Helena. 

With 26 students and 21 staffers, the program features classes such as life skills, wood shop - where participants use power tools - sewing and orientation and mobility workshops. Witham, who also attended last year, said life skills focuses on the basics of daily living, such as cooking, turning the stove on and off, using computers, etc. Plus people can buy gadgets such as measuring cups that whistle when the cup is almost full, preventing burned fingers or spilled liquids. She also learned about self-threading needles.

“The biggie is you count your blessings,” Witham said.  

Beckendorf attended the summer school several years ago and used the power tools, even constructing a birdhouse for his yard. 

A former Forest Service employee for 27 years, Beckendorf was diagnosed with dry macular degeneration after he started seeing haloes around objects and visited his eye doctor.

To monitor eyesight and catch problems early, Ronan Eye Clinic recommends a yearly eye exam for anybody from ages 40 to 50 as well as children before they begin school. 

Every patient receiving an eye exam is checked for glaucoma according to Peggy Owens, Ronan Eye Clinic opthalmic assistant. The clinic uses a tonometer to check for glaucoma, which measures the pressure in the eye and looks at the back of the eye. With glaucoma, patients lose peripheral vision first.  An afflicted person might not notice the problem right away, another reason yearly checks are important.

If a patient starts having blind or blurry spots in their vision or have difficulty recognizing faces or reading, Owen said Ronan Eye Clinic recommends they see their eye doctor immediately. 

For patients who have low vision, ophthalmic company Eschenbach makes the mirage telescope, which are basically light-weight binoculars a person can wear. The company also produces TV and reading glasses. By closing one eye and adjusting the lens for the other eye, the glasses can be custom fit for each person.

The Mission Valley MAB urges anyone with low vision to attend one of their meetings in the fall or explore some of the organizations listed. 

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