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Low Vision

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What is low vision?

Low vision is a loss of eyesight that makes everyday tasks difficult. Reading, writing, shopping, seeing the television, driving a car, recognizing faces, and crossing the street may be hard or impossible to accomplish. When vision cannot be improved by regular glasses, medicine or surgery, people with low vision need help to learn how to make the most of their remaining sight and keep their independence.

What causes low vision?

Low vision can be caused by eye injuries, or diseases such as:

  • Macular degeneration
  • Glaucoma
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Cataracts

These conditions can occur at any age but are more common in older people. Normal aging of the eye does not lead to low vision. Regular medical eye exams by an ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) are important to diagnose eye diseases, treat those who can be helped, and start the process of vision rehabilitation for those with low vision.

What can be done to help?

Vision rehabilitation can help people with low vision compensate for their vision loss, much like rehabilitation helps people with heart disease, arthritis and stroke. You can learn new strategies to complete daily activities. You can learn to master new techniques and devices in order to regain confidence and live independently in spite of vision loss. This can be a challenging and frustrating period of adjustment—one that requires patience, practice, motivation and the support of your doctor, low-vision specialist, family and friends. The rewards, however, can be great —being able to function better. The amount of rehabilitation needed depends your vision loss and what you want to be able to do. A team approach is often best and may involve some or all of the following professionals: ophthalmologist, low-vision specialist, occupational therapist, rehabilitation teacher, orientation and mobility specialist, social worker or counselor.

low-vision aids

There are many devices that help people with low vision function better. Different devices may be needed for different tasks. These devices help people with low vision make the most of their remaining vision and enhance their quality of life. It is helpful to have the recommendation of a trained professional before purchasing a device to assure that the one chosen will best meet the individual's needs. Training and practice are also important in order to become skilled at using any device.

Optical low-vision devices use lenses to magnify objects, making them easier to see. A hand-held magnifier is a common example. Magnifying Spectacles are stronger than ordinary glasses. They can be used for near tasks such as reading, threading a needle or any activity that requires close, detailed vision. The printed page or object must be held closer than usual in order to keep things in focus. With practice, this becomes comfortable. An advantage of magnifying spectacles is that hands remain free to hold the reading materials or perform tasks. Stand Magnifiers rest directly on the reading material, keeping the lens at the proper distance from the page. Some stand magnifiers also have a built-in light. The ability to rest the magnifier on the page is useful for patients with a tremor or arthritis. Hand Magnifiers are available in varying strengths to suit different people and different tasks. Reading material is not necessarily held as close to the face as with magnifying spectacles. Some models come with a built-in light. High quality and high-powered magnifiers are often available only in specialized stores or through vision rehabilitation professionals. Telescopes are used for seeing far away objects or signs. They can be hand-held like a pair of regular binoculars, or mounted on a pair of glasses.

Video magnifiers are electronic devices that use a camera and television screen to enlarge printed material, pictures or small objects. They are adjustable and can enhance the material in different ways. For example, a video magnifier can make the print appear darker (increased contrast). The technology is developing rapidly, and electronic devices are becoming smaller, more portable and easier to use. Some can even be used for both distance and near tasks.

There are numerous low vision devices and techniques to help make everyday activities easier. They include:

  • large-print books, newspapers, magazines, playing cards and checks;
  • writing and signing guides to highlight the area of interest;
  • high contrast and large number telephones, thermostats, watches and remote controls;
  • talking watches, timers, books and blood pressure and blood sugar machines;
  • bold tipped markers for easy to read shopping and phone number lists;
  • computers that can magnify, on screen or on paper, any printed material or picture;
  • computers that read aloud what is viewed on screen;
  • sitting closer to the television (this will not damage your eyes!)

Lighting and glare

Good lighting and control of glare are very important for most people with low vision. Here are some useful suggestions:

A bright light close to reading material often improves vision. Adjust its location for the greatest visibility without glare. Stronger light bulbs in darkly lit areas can make tasks like cooking, dressing and walking up or down stairs easier. Wearing a hat with a wide brim or tinted wrap-around sunglasses can shield your eyes from dazzling and annoying overhead lights or sunlight.