Our ability to see clearly impacts our ability to live without additional assistance on a daily basis. For people with low vision, there are special considerations for daily activities.
“Low vision refers to vision that can no longer be corrected by conventional glasses alone and is due to some type of chronic eye condition like macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy or some of the types of congenital vision problems,” said Suleiman Alibhai, OD, FAAO, of Low Vision Services, PLC. “Typically patients with low vision already have eyeglasses or contact lenses which compensate for any nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism but still cannot achieve 20/20 vision on an eye chart or read conventional-sized text.”
Although people of any age can have low vision, it primarily affects older adults who have age-related macular degeneration or glaucoma. “Despite treatments for both macular degeneration and glaucoma, these conditions remain chronic and the vision continues to deteriorate as the patient ages,” Dr. Alibhai said.
Just as low vision has many different causes, it also affects people differently. For example, Dr. Alibhai pointed out, that some people with low vision may have lost their peripheral vision.
“Patients with low vision also suffer from loss of contrast sensitivity making it harder to recognize faces, see their food on a plate or even judge the edge of steps and curbs,” he said. “Low vision may also result in excessive glare sensitivity making all daily living activities more difficult—even indoors.”
Since there is no treatment for low vision, people must adapt to their environment and undergo vision rehabilitation. Even so, their independence can be impacted as they struggle with shopping, cooking, reading, ambulating safely. “Safety, independence and quality of life can become significantly impacted in the older person who also has other chronic conditions.”
Not only is the loss of vision a problem, Dr. Alibhai said that it can lead to depression.
He suggests support groups and taking advantage of programs for the sight-impaired such as subsidized public transportation, free books on tape, and preferential seating in theaters and stadiums.
In Your Sights
For people who have a loved one with low vision, Dr. Alibhai said that the first step is to get a thorough vision exam so that any opportunities for treatments can be considered. Then, a low vision specialist can assess the situation from “a functional standpoint” that factors in independence—whether that means an older adult living alone or a child attending school.
“The low vision specialist can introduce the patient to various types of rehabilitation that will enable the individual to maintain their independence in performing daily living activities,” he said. “It is very important for the family to encourage the low vision individual to utilize their remaining vision and develop new ways to maintain independence.”
To learn more about low vision, go to The Vision Council website.