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Coping With Low Vision

IMAGE If you think the only aids for people with low vision are books on tape and large-print playing cards, you're only seeing part of the picture. For the many Americans who have partial vision, there's everything from low-tech tricks, such as using contrasting colors for a placemat and plate, to high-tech devices capable of reading books aloud.

Many people with low vision have macular degeneration. The disease is common in people over 70 years old. Other leading causes of low vision are glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy.

Vision Rehabilitation

The term vision rehabilitation is replacing low vision services. The focus today is not just on low vision devices but also on training patients to use their remaining sight and other senses so they can function as independently as possible and continue to enjoy things that give them pleasure.

Understanding Low Vision

The definition of low vision is vision impairment that interferes with everyday activities and is not correctable with glasses, contact lenses, surgery, or medication. That is when a low vision specialist and/or low vision clinic can help. Your state's department of services for the visually impaired can tell you where to find them.

Visiting a Low Vision Clinic

Patients who come to a clinic are first interviewed to see how partial sight has affected their lives and what their goals are for rehabilitation. One person may want to be able to cook and read the newspaper again, while another may want to attend college.

Patients are then examined by a doctor who can prescribe optical devices. During rehabilitation, patients can borrow devices from the clinic to practice with before purchasing their own.

Adapting Your Home

Patients and their families learn about adaptations they can make at home. Lighting is an important consideration. In general, someone with low vision needs more light evenly flooding a room and extra light in task areas. Glare, shadowy dark areas, and pools of light should be avoided. The type of bulb—halogen, fluorescent, or incandescent—can also make a difference. Simply using contrasting solid colors can improve a home's safety and enhance independence.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Pour coffee into a white mug.
  • Avoid glass plates and drinking glasses because they may appear invisible.
  • Wrap colored tape around pot handles.
  • Put safety tape on edges of stairs and paint landings a color that contrasts with the stairs.
  • Set a dark colored chair against a light colored wall.
  • Give away the coffee table or drape it with a brightly colored cloth.
  • Float a bright yellow rubber duck in the bathtub to see when the tub is full.

Using Adaptive Devices

Specialty catalogs and websites offer a range of products, like talking clocks, TV screen magnifiers, large button remote controls, templates for writing letters or checks, and many more. These products can help you accomplish many tasks that you need to do on a daily basis.

Common household items such as rubber bands, tape, sandpaper, and craft paint can also become adaptive devices. For example, paint or tape can indicate an oven's 350°F (177°C) setting and a rubber band can distinguish one pill bottle from another.

Using High-tech Devices

Some of the most popular optical aids are magnifiers that provide battery-powered illumination. Magnifiers come in a large range of strengths, sizes, and shapes so that you can fit the device to the task. For example, to read the newspaper, you may choose to use a bar-shaped magnifier that enlarges several lines of text.

You will also find many optical aids that make use of computer technology. Self-focusing telescopes, worn like glasses, adjust automatically for close or distance vision. For example, if you look from a marker board to your notes, a computer chip can adjust the focus accordingly.

Optical readers, some of them portable, are also available. One type uses closed circuit TV technology (CCTV). Just plug it in, set a document on the platform, and a camera projects the magnified image onto a screen.

In addition, there are readers that can connect to a computer using special software. Machines that can read text aloud are also possible using a computer and speech recognition software. To make using your computer easier, a magnified monitor is just one option. You can also have the computer read back what you type and respond to voice commands.

Your health insurance or Medicare policy may cover your eye exam and services, like occupational therapy. But, unfortunately, the cost of the devices is not typically covered. You may be able to get financial assistance through your state or by contacting organizations, like the Association of Blind Citizens.

  • American Academy of Ophthalmology

    http://www.aao.org

  • National Eye Institute

    http://www.nei.nih.gov

  • Canadian Association of Optometrists

    http://www.opto.ca

  • Canadian Ophthalmological Society

    http://www.cos-sco.ca

  • Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of high-dose supplementation with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc for age-related macular degeneration and vision loss: AREDS Report no.8. Arch Ophthalmol. 2001;119:1417–1436.

  • Computer aids. Low Vision Center website. Available at: http://www.lowvisioninfo.org/computer.htm. Accessed October 14, 2013.

  • Minto H, Butt IA. Low vision devices and training. Community Eye Health. 2004;17K49):6-7. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1705708/Accessed October 14, 2013.

  • Olmedilla B, Granado F, Blanco I, et al. Lutein, but not alpha-tocopherol, supplementation improves visual function in patients with age-related cataracts: a 2-y double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study. Nutrition. 2003;19:21-24.

  • Richer S, Stiles W, Statkute L, et al. Double-masked, placebo-controlled, randomized trial of lutein and antioxidant supplementation in the intervention of atrophic age-related macular degeneration: the Veterans LAST study (Lutein Antioxidant Supplementation Trial). Optometry. 2004;75:216-230.

  • Vision aids. University of Houston, University Eye Institute website. Available at: http://www.opt.uh.edu/uei/services/lowvision/vision-aids.cfm. Accessed October 14, 2013.