Visual impairment, also known as low vision, is ramping up due to the aging population and prevalence of eye disease. Broadly defined as vision worse than 20/40 there are millions of Americans with low vision that struggle with daily activities, quality of life and loss of independence. The biggest culprits for robbing vision in the older population are macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. In the working age population there are numerous conditions that cause reduced vision-namely the aforementioned glaucoma and diabetes but also trauma, infections and genetic eye conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa and ocular albinism.
The key to treating low vision is to maximize the remaining vision and teach new adaptive skills to maintain a patient’s quality of life. While it might seem dire for any patient undergoing vision loss there is hope in every case and potential to live a full interactive life. Maximizing a patient’s remaining vision following loss to a disease such as glaucoma or macular generation, is accomplished with a system of tools. These include magnifiers, lighting instruments, digital devices, telescopes and other low vision aids and techniques. Learning new skills when driving or working with computers and cell phones is key to maintaining independence and quality of life.
With regards to low vision management, luckily, we have more than just magnifiers these days. If you have a smart phone, you have access to a tremendously powerful low vision device – one that can enlarge reading text, serve as a hand held magnifier and even talk to you with optical character recognition or OCR (see OrCam photo right). Other low vision apps available on a mobile phone allow facial recognition and money identification. These can be very empowering. Also, North Carolina is a state that allows you to drive with a bioptic telescope and patients with 20/200 vision or better may qualify.
Given the growing need and lack of low vision resources in our region, Carolina Eye Doctors is establishing an advanced vision rehabilitation clinic to serve those patients with reduced vision. We will be working with our area retinal and glaucoma specialists to provide low vision care. The program at Carolina Eye Doctors will encompass not only vision rehabilitation but will be closely coordinated with occupational and mobility specialists, mental health and social work that provides benefits and services for low vision and blind patients.
Two of the biggest barriers to low vision care are availability and awareness. Hopefully as we implement our low vision program and our local providers become aware, it will alleviate these barriers. From mild vision loss to complete blindness, there is always something we can do. We believe low vision treatment can make a tremendous improvement in a patient’s well-being and are committed to bringing that care to our patients.