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Low Vision: Helping People Turn Up the Dimmer

There’s a dim place between clear sight and blindness, and it’s called low vision. Most people who have it are older, and also dealing with other vision-impairing problems. About three million of them are in the United States.

We talked with Jack Fugate, O.D., who is a retired professor from the Ohio State University College of Optometry. He tells us the definition of low vision is where eyesight is significantly impaired even with correction. So, as an example, “If patients can’t read newspaper print with ordinary prescription glasses or contacts, they belong in the category of those with low vision,” he says. For many, low vision also means legal blindness, defined as corrected visual sharpness of 20/200 or worse in the better eye.

Low vision is not a disease in its own right, but it usually goes along with other age- and health-related conditions. Diabetes, macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts are the usual suspects.

There is help for people trying to live a normal life with low vision. They’re basic, but they do help, says Dr. Fugate.

Visual Aids

It sounds simple, but there’s high-tech behind it. The best method for people to improve their sight with low vision is just making things appear bigger. That’s where magnifiers come in and in several varieties:

  • Eyeglass-mounted. Magnifiers and telescopes can be placed directly on glasses. This is good because it leaves hands free to do other things. Magnifiers are for close-up tasks and telescopes for seeing things farther away (like a ball game, for example).
  • Hand-held and tabletop. For on-the-go activities, hand-held magnifiers help people take better vision with them. Helpful for reading price tags, for instance. The tabletop variety is great for working on crafts at home.
  •  Electro-optical systems. These complex-sounding tools are special closed-circuit TV devices that make video images larger.

Besides technology-based tools, you’ll have a pretty easy time finding large-print books, magazines and other reading materials. Web sites are also moving toward giving the option to increase image size onscreen.

Clear vision and a sense of independence go hand-in-hand, so low vision aids are key for people living with the condition. 

Source: VSP