December 2019


Home design hacks to help patients with reduced vision

by Liz Hillman EyeWorld Editorial Co-Director

Organization is a critical component to help people with changing vision.
Source (all): Novartis

Celebrity interior designer Nate Berkus teamed up with several organizations to design
a guide to help patients with wet AMD function well in their home.


Nate Berkus, a celebrity interior designer, knows first-hand how interior design isn’t just about aesthetic. Sometimes functionality truly takes the upper hand, such as when patients might have specific needs due to visual impairment.
“My grandmother was impacted by macular degeneration, so I can really appreciate the role home design can have in helping people maintain their independence,” Mr. Berkus told EyeWorld in an email. “I remember us standing in her condo trying to figure out how to help her, but we just didn’t have the answers.”
He might not have known what would be best for her specific eye condition then, but he does now. Mr. Berkus teamed up with Novartis and vision-focused patient advocacy partners—MD Support, SupportSight, Lighthouse Guild, BrightFocus Foundation, Macular Degeneration Association, and Prevent Blindness—to create a design guide that could help patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD) function well within their homes without sacrificing style.
“As people’s vision changes, everyday things can pose new challenges,” Mr. Berkus said. “My Home in Sight offers five key principles, including safety, contrast/color, lighting, organization, and low-vision tools, to help those impacted by wet AMD live safely and more independently. These are all smart and easy ways to adapt your space.”

Here are some of Mr. Berkus’ specific tips:
• Using high-contrast accessories and color can really help improve safety by helping to define where things are in a space. For example, add contrasting pillows to chairs, or a bold, textured throw at the edge of a sofa or bed. Also consider adding contrasting trim to the edges of your drapery—upholstery trim or grosgrain has been used in fine design for years.
• English country homes typically had one light source for each seat in the space, and that’s a really great rule of thumb for people experiencing changing vision. Create symmetry by adding pairs of floor lamps flanking a sofa, or adding task lamps or gooseneck lamps on side tables or a desk. Be sure to tuck away lamp cords and secure them with tape.
• Organization is important in any home, period. But it’s even more critical for people experiencing changing vision. Simple tips can help, like having a designated place for keys and glasses, so you always know where to find them. Baskets are a great way to corral stuff and keep like things together. Bright-colored tape, sticky notes, and good lighting are all smart tools to help you find the items you need the most.
Doctors can refer patients with wet AMD who might want to make adjustments in their home to improve their lifestyle to the complimentary My Home in Sight Kit at
Andrew Iwach, MD, said low-vision centers can be helpful in providing advice and services to improve patients’ safety and independence in the home.
“We probably under-refer to low-vision centers,” Dr. Iwach said, noting that a center in San Francisco has a model kitchen set up with different optical aids as examples.
A recent survey by the Glaucoma Research Foundation found that adult glaucoma patients worry that they will lose their vision (76%), their ability to live independently (50%), and their ability to care for themselves (37%). Dr. Iwach said it is first important for ophthalmologists, when they meet with glaucoma patients, to ask them how they perceive their vision and how it’s impacting their ability to function. This can help doctors get a sense of whether they need help at home due to visual impairment caused by glaucoma or if other ocular conditions need to be addressed, such as cataracts.
Dr. Iwach said that while glaucoma can induce fear of vision loss in patients, it’s important to tell them that by keeping appointments and complying with medical treatment, the majority of glaucoma patients can maintain functional vision.
“We always have to remind ourselves as clinicians that these patients are listening to every word we say because they are fearful. When there is an opportunity to say something positive, when appropriate … reassuring patients is really important to give them additional comfort,” Dr. Iwach said.
Patients whose peripheral vision is impacted by severe glaucoma should be advised to move slowly and deliberately, because they are at greater risk of falling, Benjamin Bert, MD, said.
“[T]he patient may not be able to see items sticking out into their path or where an item has been left on the floor,” Dr. Bert said in an email to EyeWorld. “In their own homes they can reduce surprise obstacles by keeping the placement of items consistent.”
Dr. Bert added that patients with sudden corneal edema can experience diffuse blurred vision, which can fluctuate. For these patients, it’s also important to keep furniture and other items in the same place for safety reasons.
“One of the most dangerous items to navigate in a house is stairs. Stairs are not just dangerous for someone who has a visual impairment, even wearing bifocals or progressive glasses can make navigating stairs trickier. Increasing the contrast of the edge of the step with brightly colored tape or paint can make it less likely to be missed,” Dr. Bert said. “This same technique can be used with edges of tables and other items that the patient might bump into. I will often recommend a patient switches to single-vision lens glasses so that the technology in the glasses is not hindering their vision further.”

About the sources

Nate Berkus
Interior Designer
New York

Benjamin Bert, MD
MemorialCare Surgical
Center at Orange Coast
Fountain Valley, California

Andrew Iwach, MD
Executive director
Glaucoma Center of San Francisco
San Francisco

Relevant financial interests

: Novartis paid spokesperson
Bert: None
Iwach: None

Contact information


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