A multitude of optical and high-tech devices offer a new outlook to patients with degenerative eye diseases.
When a stronger eyeglass prescription may no longer improve vision, there is still a place to turn for help with age-related eye disorders. Low-vision ophthalmologists and optometrists specialize in making the most of whatever sight a person still has. Now, an array of optical and electronic devices allow the severely vision-impaired to read, shop, go to movies, pursue hobbies and continue their jobs.
"Most people who are considered blind are not blind," says Dr. Lynne Noon, a low-vision optometrist practicing in Arizona. 'They have a lot of useful vision. They just need low-vision devices such as closed-circuit television, magnifiers, or special glasses."
The largest percentage of low-vision patients suffer from macular degeneration, but many also have lost vision due to retinitis pigmentosa, diabetic retinopathy or other eye problems. Dr. Noon says low-vision practitioners can't return patients to 20/20 vision, but they can provide improved vision to 99 percent of patients they see.
"People come into my office quite often who have recently had a vision loss or they've maybe had limited vision for quite a while and they don't think anything can be done," she says. "They're depressed when they come in, and I think when they leave, they realize how many options are available to them and that they can remain independent."
Through the use of low-vision aids, Dr. Noon says, "Most everybody with low vision can accomplish all their tasks, except maybe driving a car. And in some states, that may be possible."
Let There be Light
Lighting is half the story in treating low vision, according to Dr. Noon. Improved lighting can make a night-and-day difference for most patients. As we age, our light requirement for seeing properly increases every decade. But it is the quality and placement of light that matters most for low-vision patients.
Dr. Noon recommends white incandescent bulbs such as the GE Reveal bulb, which is closest to natural sunlight. Incandescent light is best because it is cooler, she says. Halogen bulbs are too hot to be used close to the face.
For reading or working, Dr. Noon recommends using a 60 or 75 watt bulb positioned within a foot of the page or work materials. "That is typically enough light. You don't want to make the mistake of putting a 150-watt bulb in and then getting a lot of glare," she says. Glare is the enemy of low-vision patients.
To avoid glare when working or reading, …