As people live longer lives, the number of older Americans with low vision is expected to double in the coming years. Low vision is defined as vision that cannot be corrected or improved with glasses, contacts, or surgery. Blind spots can make driving, reading, and seeing faces difficult or impossible for people with low vision. The tragedy, however, is that most people believe there is nothing they can do to improve their quality of life. The AAO and the UCLA Stein Eye Institute are using September’s Healthy Aging Month to remind people why you need an eye exam to maintain your independence and stay safe despite vision loss.
Why You Need an Eye Exam
One of the leading causes of low vision is age-related macular degeneration. Diabetic eye disease, glaucoma, and inherited retinal diseases are also common contributors. Whatever the cause, vision rehabilitation assists people in making the most of their remaining vision so they can live as independently as possible.
Over the years, the field of vision rehabilitation has advanced significantly, providing more effective technologies and strategies. Ophthalmologists can now provide solutions ranging from a simple, portable video magnifier that can enlarge text and objects to high-tech glasses equipped with cameras that allow people to read text and see faces.
However, there are many simple changes that people can make on their own to improve their quality of life:
- Improve contrast. Put dark place mats under white place settings, buy rugs that are a contrasting color with the floor, and kitchen towels and cutting boards that contrast with the countertop. Use contrasting colored tape along the edges of rugs, stairs and lamp shades.
- Enhance the lighting. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 3 million older Americans are treated each year for fall-related injuries. Many of these falls are the result of poor vision. Lighting should be added to stairwells and dark hallways. To avoid tripping, remove rugs from hallways. In the kitchen, task lighting can also make food preparation safer and easier.
- Reduce and organize clutter. A cluttered home is harder to navigate and can lead to falls and frustration. It is easier to locate items needed for daily living when each item has a specific location and is identified with a high-contrast label.
- Accept technology. Books on tape and personal voice-activated assistants, such as Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa, can be extremely beneficial for people who are unable to read, dial a phone, or set a thermostat.
Above all, consult an ophthalmologist and a low vision specialist. An ophthalmologist can assess the full extent of vision loss as well as the precise location of blind spots. The ophthalmologist or low vision specialist can then determine the best techniques and devices to help patients overcome their specific challenges.
Unfortunately, many patients are referred for vision rehabilitation as a last resort after their disease has progressed to an advanced stage. However, it is most effective when introduced early in a patient’s visual loss, so they can participate in the process as they learn how to navigate their new world.
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