As many as 11 million people over 60 have some form of macular degneration. It’s an irreversible condition and it can cause gradual and total loss of sight. This could include your own aging parents. Many elders learn to get by, adapt and manage with some kind of help. What if they could just call a number and ask someone to find something for them? Now they can. Yes, there’s an app for that.
I learned about Be My Eyes from my own daughter, Jessi, who is a volunteer for answering calls generated on this app. I was very impressed with the use of technology to quickly solve everyday problems for low vision or blind people who are trying to locate something, match colors, cook or do other things requiring sight. It works like this, as described on their website:
“When the blind or low-vision user requests assistance through the app, Be My Eyes sends a notification to several volunteers. The app works by pairing the blind or low-vision user with a sighted volunteer based on language and timezone. The first volunteer to answer the request is connected to that specific user and receives live video feed from the rear-facing camera of the user’s smartphone. The audio connection allows the user and the volunteer to solve the task together.”
Both parties to the conversation need a smart phone. The requester is connected with live video on his camera to the first volunteer to take the call who sees the video on her phone. The blind person moves the phone camera around, allowing the volunteer to see where an object was dropped, for example, or the color of an item someone wants to match. The volunteer guides the blind person on where to move the camera.
Once the volunteer signs up, the information is logged and when a visually impaired person calls to ask for help, the organization matches the request with the volunteer. My daughter gets an alert on her mobile phone and if she can take the call, she responds. If not, the call is routed to another volunteer. When the sighted person answers, tapping on the app, it automatically opens the camera function on the caller’s phone. She’s had requests for telling the person what color the sweater is, to finding a dropped object to finding a blind skier’s white cane. She says it’s enjoyable to be able to help someone so quickly and so efficiently.
There is another benefit to this use of technology too. The social connection can be fun for both people on the call. At AgingParents.com, where we consult with those who have aging loved ones to help them solve problems, we often hear about isolated aging parents. Social isolation can result from many factors, including decreased hearing, vision, loss of ability to drive, etc. Social isolation has significant negative health impacts. We support anything that decreases social isolation and this app seems genius to me in facilitating a social as well as a problem-solving connection. How helpful it is to create a bridge between the elder and a volunteer, available on a moment’s notice. My daughter has had 10-minute conversations with a caller, just needing a search to locate something to a half hour chat that enabled both to get to know one another a bit too, as well as solving an everyday problem.
Be My Eyes is worldwide. It would useful be for any adult child with a visually impaired aging parent to know about this app. Most adult children have their own busy lives and can’t always be instantly available at the moment of need. But the volunteers can be available anytime. There are over 2.8 million of them and about 150,000 blind folks on the program. There’s an excellent chance that if your aging parent can’t find that white cane, a volunteer can look around with her phone camera and find it. If your aging parent doesn’t have a smart phone, he or she can learn the basics of how to use one with your help. My own mother in law learned to use a smart phone so she could access Uber when she was 93. She had macular degeneration too. Even with caregivers, she still needed help finding some things in their off hours. Adult children have their own lives and aren’t always available right then when a parent needs a sighted person to find something. Consider this app for your low vision and blind elders. It could make your life and theirs easier.
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Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, AgingParents.com