Currently, 4.2 million Americans are visually impaired, and 3 million of them have low vision, according to the National Eye Institute.
In 2030, we expect the number of visually impaired Americans to hit 7.2 million, and 5 million will have low vision.
What is Low Vision?
For those with low vision, traditional methods of vision correction -- glasses, contacts, surgery -- fail to fully restore their sight. As a result, they struggle with permanent blurry vision.
The main causes of low vision among adults are age related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, cataract and glaucoma. For young people, the leading causes of low vision are optic nerve atrophy and retinitis pigmentosa.
Unfocused or blurred vision causes difficulties with everyday tasks, like reading, driving, shopping, writing, cooking, and watching TV. People with low vision often suffer from frustration, depression, and a feeling of helplessness.
Low vision also creates severe health and safety risks. Low vision prevents you from seeing if the crosswalk signal is green, if your oven or burner is on, important information on your medication labels, and expiration dates on the food in your fridge.
But there’s good news!
These difficulties can be overcome with the help of a low vision specialist.
What is a Low Vision Specialist?
Not all eye doctors are specialists in the realm of low vision. Visit your eye doctor and ask if he or she can refer you to a qualified low vision specialist.
The American Academy of Optometry, as well as The Vision Council, can also help you find a good low vision specialist near you.
Expect to receive a low vision exam, which is much longer and more exhaustive than a typical eye exam. The specialist will try to determine the extent of your vision loss, your network of support, how you are dealing emotionally with your vision loss and if you are motivated to make some lifestyle changes to adapt to your vision.
To prepare for your low vision exam, make sure you document any hereditary health or vision issues, your own vision history (including any operations), and bring any seeing aids you regularly use.
A low vision specialist can help you find solutions to the difficulties you face. Some of these solutions include:
- Home modifications to improve mobility and highlight the most important features of devices you use every day (like your most frequently used buttons on the remote or microwave)
- Recommending the right low vision devices for you to use
- Finding the right type of lighting to help you see better at home and at work
Instead of trying to find a cure for your vision problems, the specialist finds ways to improve the day-to-day difficulties you face as a result of your vision.
Low Vision Aids
Many low vision devices and products can help you, including:
- Stand magnifiers, fixed place magnifiers so you can better read text
- Hand-held magnifiers that you can take with you to restaurants and anywhere else that involves reading small text
- Magnifying reading glasses to read for longer periods of time
- Clip-on loupes, which can be clipped on to your regular glasses to enhance magnification
- Telemicroscopic glasses, which include tiny telescope-like devices affixed to the lens for an enhanced short-distance view
- Hand held microscopes so you can see things like street signs and address numbers in the distance
- Absorptive sunglasses that block harmful blue light
- Speech to text readers, so you can hear text instead of trying to read it
- Locator or bump dots, colorful raised plastic dots that you can stick on important appliances, drawers and other sections of your house
- Translucent color sheets, which you can place over pieces of paper to emphasize the contrast between the text and the background
- Talking color identifiers that can recognize the color of any given object (some smartphone apps can do this, too!)
- Watches that audibly tell you the time when you push a button
If you struggle with low vision, or if you know someone who hasn’t had any luck with glasses or eye surgeries, a low vision specialist and the right modifications might be the solution you’re searching for.