Sometimes, seniors feel that low vision is just a part of aging that they have to accept. However, there are services and devices that permit those who cannot see well, especially those with AMD, to continue to lead independent and full lives.
- People with low vision can improve their quality of life through vision rehabilitation services. A low vision specialist, or optometrist trained in low vision rehabilitation, can access your vision needs and make recommendations about exercises that will maximize useful vision. Certain adaptive devices may help you use your remaining vision effectively.
There are many different products currently in the market to assist people with low vision and more are being developed. Things to consider include lighting, magnification, contrast, portability and cost. Here is an overview of what is available:
- Hand held magnifiers or magnifying glasses come in many shapes and sizes, and provide magnification from 1.5-20x. Some styles can be folded up for easy transport in a pocket or handbag, or are equipped with battery operated lights. Hand-held magnifiers may be difficult to use if your hands tire easily or tend to shake.
- Stand magnifiers can be helpful for weak or shaky hands. They are mounted on stands and sit flat above the page being viewed. These devices can magnify between 2-20x and can be moved across the page to see each line. They are not easily transported and so are frequently set up in a permanent spot.
- Monocular or Binocular telescopes are mini-telescopes used for seeing things at a distance. If vision is good in only one eye, a single scope may be most useful. Magnification ranges differ depending on the telescope size and strength. Magnifiers can also be mounted on eyeglasses. When using spectacle-mounted magnifiers, objects must be held closer than normal. They work like bifocals that allow a person to switch between the eyeglass lenses and magnifier, and are useful when performing detailed work like sewing, playing board games or some hobbies.
- Video Magnifiers (CCTV) uses a stand-mounted video camera to project magnified objects onto a video screen. These devices are very useful for reading, writing, looking at photographs or doing crafts. Magnification and contrast capabilities vary with model and manufacturer.
- Scanners with Voice Output can be used to transform printed material into spoken words. Type-written text placed on the device’s scanning surface and optical character recognition (OCR) software is used to translate the text into spoken words. Text recognition or OCR apps can be loaded into most computer tablets, iPads and cell phones.
- Wearable technology is the newest and most comprehensive version of assistive technology, and includes combinations of computer/video magnifier/high definition cameras built directly into an eyeglass headset. Using voice commands, a handheld control, or controls built into the headset, the wearer has the benefits of a portable CCTV. Current models are constantly upgraded with new software applications and represent the most advanced opportunities for vision independence.
- Implantable Devices are available in rare instances. The Implantable Miniature Telescope (IMT) is an FDA approved device that puts a magnifying telescope directly and permanently into one eye. In a procedure similar to but more complicated than cataract surgery, a surgeon will place the IMT in the cornea. Light and images entering the eye through the IMT are magnified 2.7 times, which may result in improved vision since the image is larger when it reaches the retina. Another implantable device is the ‘bionic eye’ or Argus II, which is currently offered on a humanitarian basis to patients with retinitis pigmentosa, a retinal degeneration disease. A video processing unit is surgically placed on the retina and performs the job of processing images, bypassing damaged retinal cells. A digital camera mounted on an eyeglass frame obtains images and transmits wirelessly to the video processing unit on the retina. While implantable devices hold promise, their use today is restricted to a small subset of patients who have undergone appropriateness screening and specialized training after the device has been placed. Most of these implantable devices are still in early clinical trials and experimental stages.