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Living Better with Low Vision

People with low vision find everyday tasks -- reading mail, shopping, cooking, watching television -- difficult. This is because low vision cannot be improved by standard eyeglasses or contact lenses, eye surgery, or medication.

Low vision typically results from eye diseases and health conditions, such as macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetes. Although new medications are available to treat one form of macular degeneration, the condition accounts for nearly 45 percent of all cases of low vision, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI).

Doctors usually can't restore lost eyesight, but people can make the most of what they have left.

Getting help

If you have low-vision symptoms, talk to your eye care professional, who can help you find resources and visual devices to make the most of your remaining vision. Ask for a referral to a vision rehabilitation specialist who can help you identify tools that can make the most of the vision you have left.

Few people are totally sightless. Most legally blind adults have at least some sight remaining and, thanks to developments in the field of low vision, can be helped to make good use of it. Learn as much as you can about the cause of your vision loss and if it is likely to progress. Be assertive in getting help to learn new skills to help you with daily life.

These are the most commonly prescribed devices:

  • Spectacle-mounted magnifiers. With magnifying lenses mounted on spectacles or on special headbands, people can use both their hands to accomplish close-up tasks, such as reading.

  • Spectacle-mounted telescopes. These miniature telescopes are useful for seeing longer distances, such as across a room to watch television, and can be modified for reading and other near tasks.

  • Hand-held and stand magnifiers. These supplementary aids are convenient for reading small print on price tags, labels and instrument dials. Both types can be equipped with lights.

  • Electro-optical aids. Closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) enlarge reading material on video screens. Some are portable; others connect to computers. Users can adjust the image brightness, size, contrast, and background illumination.

Multiple devices

Many people with low vision require more than one visual device. They may need magnifying lenses for close-up viewing and telescopic lenses for seeing in the distance.

Numerous other products also assist those with low vision, including large-type books, magazines, and newspapers; books-on-tape, or CD; talking wristwatches; and self-threading needles.

Support groups offer a chance to learn how people with low vision and their families have coped with loss of vision and with anger, grief, and depression that many people feel. State agencies for the blind and private programs offer educational and vocational counseling, occupational therapy, rehabilitation training, job training, and recreation.