February is a low vision awareness month.
Low vision is a condition in which an individual suffers significant vision loss that can't be fully corrected with glasses, contact lenses, medication or surgery. Low vision can affect both children and adults, but is more common in the elderly, and requires significant adjustments to daily life. Here are some facts about the condition and tips for coping with it on a daily basis.
What are the causes of low vision?
- Eye diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and retinitis pigmentosa
- Eye injury
How does low vision affect eyesight?
Low vision causes partial vision loss leaving the person with some ability to see. Typically the impairment includes a significant reduction in visual acuity to worse than 20/70, hazy, blurred vision, blind spots or significant visual field loss and tunnel vision. Sometimes the extent of vision loss is considered to be legal blindness (20/200 or less visual acuity in the better eye) or almost total blindness.
How does low vision affect daily life?
With the loss of significant vision, it can become challenging to complete common daily tasks including reading, writing, cooking, and housework, watching television, driving or even recognizing people.
When low vision is diagnosed it can come as a shock. Initially, it is an adjustment to learn how to function with impaired vision but the good news is there are numerous resources and products available to assist. It can be associated with depression, as there may be a loss of independence that is brought about by low vision.
Visual Rehabilitation and Visual Aids
Low vision means that a minimal amount of sight remains intact. There are millions of people who suffer from the condition and manage to function with the remaining vision available to them through the use of visual rehabilitation or visual aids.
What are visual aids?
These are devices that help people with low vision function by maximizing remaining eyesight. This often involves the use of magnifiers and other tools to enlarge the images of objects to make them more visible. Some visual aids reduce glare and enhance contrast which makes it easier to see. Other low vision aids act as guides to help the person focus on non-visual cues, such as sound or feel. Finding the right visual aid is a matter of consulting with a professional and experimenting with what works for you and your daily needs.
How to make life with low vision easier
- Ensure that you have adequate lighting in your home. This may require some trial and error with different lights and voltages to determine what works best for you.
- Use a magnifier. There is a vast selection of magnifiers available, ranging from hand-held to stand magnifiers. Binoculars and spectacle mounted magnifiers are also an option.
- Your optometrist or low vision specialist can recommend specialized lens tints for certain conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa or cataracts, which enhance vision or reduce light sensitivity.
- Use large print books for reading. Alternatively, try digital recordings or mp3s.
- Make use of high contrast for writing. Try writing in large letters with a broad black pen on a white piece of paper or board.
- Adding a high-contrast stripe on steps (bright color on dark staircase, or black stripe on light stairs) can prevent falls in people with low vision, and may enable them to remain independent in their home.
- Find out what another technology is available to help make your life simpler.
If you or a loved one has low vision, don’t despair. Be sure to consult with your eye doctor about the best course of action to take to simplify life with low vision.