This article appears in Summer Boomers magazine.
You may be getting better with age, but as your eyes age their performance may decline. If you have trouble reading the newspaper with ease or the fine print on a product label, you might have low vision.
“Low vision is a spectrum of visual impairment and defined by function,” said Dr. Danielle Natale, a low-vision specialist at the Krieger Eye Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. “The spectrum ranges from people with 20-20 vision to people that are totally blind. People with 20-20 vision can have visual impairment due to having blind spots, peripheral field loss or loss of contrast sensitivity. Visual impairment anywhere on the spectrum can cause difficulties with function during activities of daily living.”
In general, anyone with reduced vision that cannot be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, medication or surgery is considered to have low vision. The vision impairment can be caused by a variety of issues, from age-related macular degeneration to glaucoma, corneal disease, untreated cataracts or diabetes, Natale said. Eye injuries and birth defects can also cause low vision. Sometimes low vision can be treated if detected early enough and other times not, Natale said.
“Low vision is basically any time that your vision is impaired to the point where you start having functional difficulties,” she said. “For instance, even if your vision isn’t super-impaired, you can still have a lot of trouble reading, especially fine print. So basically, low vision is best defined as when your vision is impaired to the point where you’re starting to have functional problems that impact your activities of daily living.”
The No. 1 complaint people have about their vision is difficulty reading things such as books, electronic devices and computers, Natale said.
“That’s what people always notice first, because that’s the most detailed thing that you do,” she said, adding that blurred vision is also “one of the earliest signs that you have vision impairment that needs to be addressed.”
— Trouble recognizing familiar faces
— Difficulty performing tasks at home or at work because the lights seem dimmer than normal
— Difficulty picking out and matching colors of clothing
Seek treatment immediately
An eye examination by a doctor is necessary to diagnose low vision, Natale said.
Often, vision loss cannot be reversed, but the sooner you see an eye doctor, the sooner vision loss or eye disease can be detected and the better your chances of preventing further vision loss.
In some cases, medication or surgery may be prescribed; other times vision care is focused on rehab therapy, Natale said.
“There are different levels of low-vision care, and it all depends on how bad the impairment is. Some people only need to use some really strong reading glasses. Some people need magnifiers. Some people need more intensive training, as in they have to learn how to live with their vision impairment,” Natale said.
The biggest problem is that most people are unaware of the resources and services available.
“They’re very underutilized,” Natale said.
For example, did you know that your iPhone comes with powerful features for people with low vision or even zero sight? VoiceOver is a feature that allows your phone or iPad screen to read aloud including buttons, icons and links.
Android phones offer Google TalkBack, which “uses spoken word, vibration and other audible feedback to let you know what’s on your screen, what you’re touching, and what you can do with it,” according to AndroidCentral.com.
WebAnywhere (webinsight.cs.washington.edu/wa/) is a screen-reader developed at University of Washington that requires no special software to be installed and enables those who are blind or have low-vision to access the web from any computer that has a sound card.
One of the most basic ways to help with everyday tasks “is to have really great lighting,” Natale saids. Skip the ambient or soft lighting and opt for pure white or daylight bulbs.
Increase the contrast of what you can’t see. Paint a door frame a different color. Mark your steps with brightly colored tape. Put red tape around the start button on your microwave. Increase the font size on your device.
“Just because you have vision loss doesn’t mean that you can’t be perfectly, 100 percent independent and safe,” Natale said.