Optical devices and vision rehabilitation may help you adapt
See Better With Low-Vision Solutions
About 4 million older adults are believed to have low vision–vision impairment that can’t be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. For people who have the condition, low vision may affect every aspect of daily living. However, there are strategies that can help you take full advantage of the sight you have.
The Impact of Low Vision If you have low vision, you may not easily be able to tell the time, make phone calls, or use a computer. “Safely taking medications may be difficult,” adds Bruce Rosenthal, OD, FAAO, chief of low vision services at Lighthouse Guild and an adjunct professor at Mount Sinai. “You also may not be able to eat healthfully if you are unable to check food labels, see the foods and liquids you’re consuming, or read the dials on the stove.” A limited field of vision puts you at risk of falls if you can’t see to navigate your way around potential hazards, and at risk of serious accidents if you can’t see approaching traffic while crossing the road. “It also may prevent you from seeing curbs, as well as impact your ability to travel safely when it is dark,” Dr. Rosenthal says. “Feeling unsafe while outdoors can lead to the adoption of a sedentary lifestyle and dependence on family and/or friends, or social isolation.”
Low vision also may impact your brain function. “While numerous studies have pointed to the importance of cognitive stimulation for helping older adults maintain their memory and thinking skills, you need good or correctible vision to engage in many brain-boosting activities,” Dr. Rosenthal notes. In a 2020 study (Journals of Gerontology Series A, July), older adults with low vision reported less frequent participation in crossword and jigsaw puzzles, reading newspapers or magazines, and doing crafts like needlework.
Consider Seeing a Low-Vision Specialist If your vision loss can’t be corrected with ordinary glasses, ask your eye doctor to refer you to a low-vision specialist. “These specialists can advise you on how best to use vision aids and assistive technology to make efficient use of your remaining vision,” says Dr. Rosenthal. “Before you see a low-vision specialist it is helpful to make a list of hobbies and activities you enjoy and frequently engage in so that he or she can recommend practical, task-specific solutions.”
Use Optical Devices Options for people with low vision include high-strength magnifying glasses that resemble normal glasses, and hand-held or standing magnifiers. Magnifying glasses relieve you of the need to carry a magnifier with you–however, you do need to hold whatever you’re reading as close to your face as possible while wearing the glasses. This may not be so easy to do if you’re reading a thick, heavy book and/or your hands tend to shake. Simple hand-held magnifiers can be placed over a book or newspaper so you can clearly see the letters, but you have to carry them around with you. A magnifier on a stand can be positioned right next to you so you have your hands free and can see to do sewing, needlepoint, crochet, or knitting. Specially designed magnifiers also are available to help you see the television or computer screen.
When it comes to reading you also can borrow audio books from your local library or purchase them through the phone app Audible. Modern technology offers more advanced solutions for people with low vision, too. “These include electronic devices that provide greater contrast between words and the page, along with magnification,” Dr. Rosenthal notes. “New developments include devices that not only read the newspaper for you, but also identify colors and the denomination of paper money.”
Consider Vision Rehabilitation Certified vision rehabilitation specialists teach people with low vision how to adapt to the problem so they can live independently. “They can show you techniques that help with personal care tasks like brushing your teeth, shaving, and caring for your fingernails,” Dr. Rosenthal says. “You’ll also be advised on how to manage meal preparation tasks like cutting and dicing fruits and vegetables, pouring liquids, and safely using the stove.” Handy kitchen aids for low vision include timers with large print or raised markings, color-coded measuring cups and spoons, and light and dark cutting boards that contrast with foods so they can be more easily seen.
Many Medicare carriers now have policies in place that cover some vision rehabilitation services. If you are unsure, contact your insurer for information.
Living Your Life with Low Vision
The bottom line is that low vision doesn’t have to diminish your quality of life–people with vision loss often can be helped. “Low vision services and vision rehabilitation services can help you make every effort to maximize your remaining vision,” Dr. Rosenthal confirms. See Resources for additional information.
On Tech & Vision
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Mount Sinai’s New York Eye and Ear Infirmary
Mount Sinai’s New York Eye and Ear Infirmary has a list of low vision resourcesView Resources