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Coping With Low Vision

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Windsor Star, March 16, 2006.

When it concerns your health, no one likes to be told "nothing more can be done." When hearing these words, we are resigned to accept the present situation without any chance for improvement. For the general population who suffer from low vision, there is some hope with the techniques used in low-vision rehabilitation.

What is low vision? There are scientific definitions but, in general terms, low vision is vision that is not satisfactory to the patient and cannot be sufficiently improved by eyeglasses, contact lenses or medical/surgical therapy. There are many conditions that cause low vision, with the more common being macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, diabetic retinopathy, retinal detachment, glaucoma or congenital abnormalities. For low-vision patients, simple tasks such as reading the newspaper or watching television can prove to be extremely challenging without the use of low-vision aids.

To begin the process of low-vision rehabilitation, an optometrist or ophthalmologist must determine a patient's remaining visual functions and skills. Once this is established, training begins with the use of low- and high-tech devices or techniques to optimize vision and improve daily living skills. Low-vision rehabilitation is performed by optometrists, ophthalmologists, opticians, occupational therapists, vision instructors and social workers. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) is a national organization that also provides basic low-vision care.

Simple techniques can be done to improve the daily living practices of a low-vision patient. Some examples include brightly coloured tape applied to the edges of steps. This allows safer navigation going up and down stairs. At the dinner table, using a black placemat with a white dinner plate can make it easier to see the meal. To read newsprint, the most popular low-vision aids are magnifying lenses. They come in many forms, such as spectacle frames, hand-held magnifiers, stand magnifiers and illuminated magnifiers.

There are many high-tech low vision aids as well. A closed-circuit television (CCTV) is a very useful instrument where any type of print can be placed on a tray and enlarged to a desired magnification onto a computer screen. Another high-tech device is the JORDY 2. This portable head-borne device allows the patient to see at far, intermediate and near distances by altering the magnification of objects.

Coping with low vision is not an easy task. However, low-vision rehabilitation can provide some hope. It will never completely restore vision but it can improve the independence and quality of life for a person suffering from low vision.

I would like to thank Dr. Ana Juricic for contributing to this article.

Dr. Todd Wilbee has a doctor of optometry degree and practises family optometry in Essex County. His email address is wilbeetodd@hotmail.com. His column runs the third Thursday of every month.

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