Tips for Moving Through the World with Low Vision
Blindness or low vision affect 3.3 million Americans age 40 and over and more than 733 million people worldwide. Ranjoo Prasad, OD, a staff optometrist at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center who specializes in low vision rehabilitation, shares tools and resources for navigating life with low vision.
What is low vision?
There are many ways to define low vision, but Dr. Prasad describes it as “when an individual has an eye condition that affects their vision and can’t be corrected further by medical, surgical, or optical means.” As a result, performing daily tasks can become difficult without the right assistance.
While low vision impacts a person’s daily function, the term “legally blind”—which was determined by the government—refers to the visual acuity or visual field (side vision) limitations that qualify someone for disability benefits. “Someone who is legally blind has low vision, but someone who has low vision may not necessarily be legally blind,” Dr. Prasad said.
How to find a low vision specialist
Low vision specialists are eye doctors—usually optometrists— who are specialty trained to evaluate and prescribe special devices such as glasses or magnifiers. They can also make referrals to other services and specialists. You can find a low vision specialist by contacting your eye doctor or by reaching out to a division of senior services or state or local agencies, Dr. Prasad said.
Most vision evaluations are reimbursable by private insurers and Medicare, as are occupational therapists who help train individuals with their daily tasks who have low vision, she added.
Tips for low vision support
There are many resources available to help with optimizing lighting and reading text on phones, maps, and computers. Dr. Prasad shared a few key tips, including:
Lighting your home correctly. Use light bulbs with a warmer color temperature. Also, use cast lamps instead of shaded lamps. Cast lamps have hoods to help direct the light directly onto the paper you are reading. Direct light works better for people with low vision than diffused light does.
Protect your eyes from the sun. Get glasses with UV coating and use polarized sunglasses when outside.
Adjust the light settings on your smartphone and computer. Make the light warmer, turn down the brightness, and adjust the contrast.
Increase the font sizes on your phone, computer, and tablet. These electronics have settings you can adjust to make things easier to read.
Use a hand-held, battery-powered illuminated magnifier. These tools can help with reading cans at grocery stores and using printed maps. Some smartphones can do this for you, too.
Dr. Prasad also recommends patients ask their optometrist for adaptations to help them stay involved in their specific, beloved hobbies, and for referrals to specialists with expertise in the specific tools and technology available for various hobbies. “It all depends on [your] level of vision and what you want to do,” she said.
Navigating social circumstances with low vision can also be tricky. Individuals experiencing vision loss often feel anxious when explaining their vision to others. “I try to reassure [my patients] to just state the facts of what they’re experiencing,” she said. One of her patients, she said, wears a pin that says, “I have low vision”, which has started conversations to help others understand what that person was experiencing.
Visual impairment and loss can increase one’s risk for isolation, depression, and anxiety. To combat this, “Join activities,” Dr. Prasad said, “and be social within organizations if that’s meaningful for you. There [are also many] low vision support groups within the communities.” Connecting with others with low vision can clarify a lot, she said.
“But the most important thing,” she said, “is to know that you’re not alone. Be patient and compassionate with yourself.”
Listen to the full conversation with Dr. Prasad.
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