What is low vision?
Low vision is a loss of eyesight that makes everyday tasks difficult.
Reading, writing, shopping, watching television, driving a car, recognizing
faces, and crossing the street may be hard or impossible to accomplish. When
vision cannot be improved with regular eyeglasses, 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 by diseases such as:
- Macular degeneration
- Diabetic retinopathy
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. or D.O.) 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 invaluable—being able to function better.
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 your needs. Training and practice are also important in order to become
skilled at using any device.
Optical Low-Vision Aids
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. An advantage
of magnifying spectacles is that the 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. 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.
Video magnifiers are electronic devices that use a camera and
television screen to enlarge printed material, pictures or small objects. 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
Other Low-Vision Devices and Techniques
There are numerous low-vision devices and techniques to help make everyday
activities easier. They include:
- Large-print books, newspapers, magazines, playing cards
- Writing and signing guides to highlight an area of
- 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
- 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
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.
Where to Get Help
Vision rehabilitation services may be provided by doctors, hospitals, vision
rehabilitation centers, and governmental and private agencies. Ask your
ophthalmologist or contact the organizations below for more information and
resources near you.
Dr. Todd M. Bescak,
Ophthalmology, Bescak Eye Center, 3600 Kolbe Road, #230, Lorain, Ohio, 44053;