| Understanding Low Vision
| Visiting a Low Vision Clinic
| Adapting Your Home
| Using Adaptive Devices
| Using High-tech Devices
| Paying for Services and Devices
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.
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 medicine. 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
Too often, people buy first one magnifier, then another, only to become frustrated and give up trying to read, says Kathy Von Dollen, RN, coordinator of Low Vision Rehab at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. "People must be taught to read with their remaining sight. Just using a magnifier will not let them read again," she says.
Patients who come to the 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 also learn about adaptations they can make at home. Lighting is a very 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.
Some tips from the experts:
- Pour coffee into a white mug.
- Avoid glass plates and drinking glasses because they will appear invisible.
- Wrap colored tape around pot handles.
- Put safety tape on edges of stairs; paint landings a color that contrasts with 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
Von Dollen says that one of the most essential adaptive devices is the felt tip pen, but not just any felt tip pen. She recommends the 20/20 pen by Sanford because it is easy to write with and easy to read, does not bleed through paper the way markers do, and has a white barrel and black cap so you can find it on any surface.
Common household items can even become adaptive devices: rubber bands, tape, sandpaper, craft paint, etc. 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.
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.
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), but that does not mean it needs special wiring or network hook-ups. 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.
Paying for Services and Devices
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.
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Last reviewed August 2011 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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