Your Home and DME: How to Create a Space That Balances Independence and Support

When blurry or poor eyesight makes daily activities difficult, here’s what to do to stay independent and secure inside your house.

Home can be a safe haven. After all, it’s your comfort zone, the place where you can relax, unwind, and spend quality time with family and friends.

But if you have diabetic macular edema (DME), symptoms such as blurry or double vision and floaters can make navigating even the most familiar spaces more challenging.

The good news? Making modifications around the house can help you stay comfortable in every room. With the right adjustments, people with low vision or other sight limitations may experience:

  • Less risk and fear of falling
  • A lower chance of depression
  • More independence
  • Improved quality of life

What Experts Say: Vision Accessibility at Home

Making adjustments at home to help with DME-related vision loss is very important, especially when it comes to safety issues, says Inna Babaeva, PhD, an occupational therapist with Lighthouse Guild in New York City who specializes in low-vision rehabilitation.

But it may be easier said than done for many, thanks to barriers such as cost.

6.8 Million households report difficulty navigating or using their homes

Source: Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University

Renters are more likely than homeowners to have a household member with a disability (like vision loss).

Source: Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University

$4,424 is the average cost to remodel for accessibility

Source: HomeAdvisor

7 million is the number of renters with disabilities who spend 30% or more of their income on rent, making the cost of home adaptations a concern

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

There are less expensive ways to make your home more DME friendly, though, whether you own or rent. Things like better lighting and decluttering can go a long way toward keeping you safe, says Dr. Babaeva.

Sarah’s Story: Routine, Organization, and a Second Set of Eyes

Sarah Castaneda, 40, was diagnosed with DME in 2017. One thing that helps her manage on a daily basis is keeping a consistent morning routine. “My day starts with my animals,” she says. She feeds them and spends time with them.

Next, Castaneda heads to the kitchen to make tea. She has a place for everything and remembers where it all goes. “With DME, it’s really hard for me to focus with my eyes, so with it being organized, I know where things are,” she says. “It’s all muscle memory.”

“With DME, it’s really hard for me to focus with my eyes, so with [my home] being organized, I know where things are.” — Sarah Castaneda, diagnosed with DME in 2017

A few other home modifications have also helped Castaneda. She was living in her home for three years before her DME diagnosis. “So, I sort of knew my way around,” she says. Still, “My kids would laugh and call me Spider-Man, because I’d scale the walls.” She added trim and other tactile decor to the walls throughout her house, so she can reach out and feel when navigating her home, to give her a sense of where she is. 

Sarah Castanada hugs her two children in her Wilmington, California home.

Her children may tease occasionally, but they’ve been a big help to Castaneda these past few years. They pitch in by taking out the trash, moving heavy objects, and rearranging stuff for her to keep her organized and on top of everything.

“Being blind can be really dangerous,” she says, recalling a time when she was washing dishes and grabbed a knife the wrong way, slicing her hand open. “[My children] are my second [set of] eyes, whether it comes to cooking or cleaning,” she says.

How to Hack Your Home for DME

If you need help figuring out how to make these changes in your home, consider working with an occupational therapist who specializes in low-vision rehabilitation.

They can not only come to your home to help you set it up, so you can get around more safely, but also “help you problem-solve on how to perform daily activities of self-care, care for others, work-related tasks, household activities, and leisure activities in an easier fashion,” says Babaeva. “They can also educate you on how to effectively use low-vision aids like magnifiers, telescopes, and prisms, as well as advanced-technology accessibility devices and apps.”

You Don’t Have to Do It All Yourself

Your loved ones and friends can be a valuable resource when it comes to making your home more DME friendly. On a practical level, they can help you clear spaces, so you’re less likely to bump into furniture. They can also help you carry out other changes you need to make at home and in your life, says Babaeva.

For example, they can divvy up tasks and chores, such as running errands and preparing meals. They can give you a ride or guide you around when you’re out in public, so you can stay involved in daily activities and hobbies.

Your loved ones can be an essential part of your healthcare team, too. They can help you identify any changes in symptoms and attend your eye doctor checkups, where they can ask questions and take notes. Best of all, they can be a source of emotional support as you navigate life with DME-related vision impairment.

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