What Low Vision Devices are Available to Me?

An estimated 35 million Americans suffer from some degree of visual impairment (https://nei.nih.gov/eyedata/adultvision_usa). The most common causes of vision loss in the United States include cataract, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. The primary treatment of low vision is to make objects bigger and/or brighter. The most common forms of magnification include handheld magnifiers, stand magnifiers, and electronic magnification strategies. Common forms of contrast enhancement include increased lighting and the increased use of high contrast environments.

Many of the most common low vision aids available have proven effective for specific tasks, such as reading. Other strategies to treat vision loss include using other senses such as touch or hearing. Historically, low vision aids are costly and devices are not covered by insurance companies or Medicare. However, in recent years, technological advancements in computers, smartphone technology, and newer imaging strategies have enabled individuals to obtain low vision products at reasonable costs. For example, Eyenote is an app provided by the U.S. treasury to help blind patients identify currency, while several commercially available magnifier apps are available.

Low vision services may be available through state and other governmental agencies, private charities, large referral centers, and private physician offices. For patients with vision loss, it is important to know that they are not alone in the journey to maintain independence and perform activities of daily living. All patients should communicate with their eye doctor about their condition and if cure of their vision loss is impossible, referral to a low vision doctor will be an important step to understand what can and cannot be done to improve one’s eyesight. Support groups are available throughout the country and inexpensive options are available.

It is also important to understand that low vision aids are not ‘one-size-fits-all.' People suffering from low vision will require the assistance of a trained eye doctor or low vision specialist to select the ideal aides for the tasks that are bothering them the most. As a starting point, patients can read about visual impairment at the American Academy of Ophthalmology (http://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/low-vision). A low vision evaluation should be performed by an Ophthalmologist or Optometrist, who will prescribe devices or recommend products based upon a patient’s needs. Sometimes, rehabilitation, orientation and mobility training, and case management services are available to assist patients to minimize the impact of vision loss on their life.

Marcus H. Colyer, M.D.

Dr. Colyer is board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology and holds licenses in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. He has hospital affiliations with Washington Hospital Center, Inova Fairfax Hospital and Inova Fair Oaks Hospital, and is an Assistant Professor at the F. Edward Herbert School of Medicine in Bethesda, Md. He also belongs to several professional and educational organizations including the Academy of Ophthalmology, American Society of Retinal Specialists and Society of Military Ophthalmologists.