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Living with sight loss during COVID-19

The CNIB Foundation recently checked in with Winnipeg’s Marianne Swarek, 89 years young, who was diagnosed with macular degeneration in her 40s. She spoke with us about living with sight loss during the pandemic – she shared the challenges she is facing as well as her advice for staying positive. 

CNIB Foundation: What would you like people to know about living with sight loss during COVID-19? 

Marianne: That I’m still functioning even at my age, with the help of people being kind to me. I had my sight throughout school, throughout my working career. Raising my family, I could still see all my children, my grandchildren. Once I lost my sight, I found it really difficult, but I found people in general very caring and helpful.

CNIB Foundation: Tell us something positive that has happened to you during this pandemic. 

A photo of a set of headphones placed over four books.Marianne: I think it’s been the kindness expressed to me throughout this situation. When I go to Safeway, I find they’re very helpful. I can’t read labels and things, and the staff there know that I can’t see very well and they’re very accommodating. I’m very touched by that because I was always a very independent person, so to be given that kind of help when I need it…I feel very blessed.

CNIB Foundation: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced during this pandemic? 

Marianne: I was a member at the Reh-Fit Centre here in Winnipeg. I was going on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for my exercises. I’m finding that trying to fit in my exercises on my own is not easy. Although they have the exercises on TV, I can’t see it well enough to take part. I’ve been walking and being very careful with that, but I do miss the exercise routine that was there for me – losing it has been hard.

CNIB Foundation: How has life changed for you during the pandemic? What are some things that you’re doing differently? 

Marianne: I’m finding that I’m not in touch with people in the building anymore. We have a meal program where I live. It’s only three days a week, but it helps you keep in touch with people in the building. With the pandemic, we’ve been having our meals sent up to our apartments. Everyone is following social distancing throughout the building. It’s changed in that you’re not allowed to really spend any time with anyone. That’s the greatest change for me during this pandemic.

CNIB Foundation: Now that the streets are quiet, have you noticed anything that you haven’t noticed before? 

Marianne: I walk most days, and what I’ve noticed on the street is that people are following the distancing rules. There’s been a real respect for the distancing rules. 

CNIB Foundation: What are some of the things you’re doing to stay busy during the pandemic? 

Marianne: My biggest thing is my books. I really enjoy my books and I’ve had lots of time to read them. For me, no matter what’s going on in the world, books provide a chance to get away from it all. I can easily get lost in a good story. Other than that, just being careful in general with the social distancing. 

CNIB Foundation: What advice would you give others to help keep their spirits up during the pandemic? 

Marianne: I think keeping in touch with people is important. One of the things recently was to reach out to others to wish them a Happy Easter. It was an opportunity for me to make contact and see how everyone was doing. I have a niece in Florida, cousins in New York and a sister-in-law in Chicago. Calling them helped me feel in touch. I felt that was really important you know, just to let people know you’re still well!

CNIB Foundation: What is one of the first things you’re going to do when the pandemic is over? 

Marianne: I’m excited to reconnect physically with CNIB’s Audio Book Club. That’s a very special group for me. It’s a chance for me to connect with other individuals living with sight loss over a shared passion for books. To be able to go in and enjoy a cup of coffee with that group is a wonderful thing. I will also rejoin the Reh-Fit Centre, and I belong to a seniors' group that I haven’t been with since March. I don’t know if we’ll restart now because we usually end in June, but that would be another group that I’d like to reconnect with.