Low Vision Aids for Older Adults
Low Vision Awareness Month is an annual event that takes place in February to raise awareness about low vision and the resources and technologies available to help people make the most of their sight. As people age, their eyesight often begins to decline due to a variety of factors such as cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy.1 While vision loss can be distressing and frustrating, there are a variety of low vision aids available to help older adults maintain their independence and improve their quality of life.
Low vision aids can be broken down into “low-tech” and “high-tech” aids, according to Bill Ritchie, a technology instructor at the San Diego Center for the Blind. Some low-tech aids include magnifying glasses and telescopic lenses, while high-tech aids include adaptive technologies and other electronic devices.
One of the most common low vision aids is the magnifying glass.2 Magnifying glasses come in a range of sizes and magnifications, and can be used to read small print, do crossword puzzles, or complete other tasks that require close-up vision. They are portable, easy to use, and can be a great tool for people who need a little extra help with close-up tasks.
Magnifying glasses with light: https://completelowvision.com/low-vision-devices/
Telescopic lenses or small telescopes are another popular low vision aid.2 These lenses are mounted on eyeglass frames and allow the user to see distant objects more clearly. They are particularly helpful for people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or cataracts, as these conditions often cause difficulty with distance vision.3 Telescopic lenses can be adjusted to different magnifications and customized to the individual's needs. For those with untreatable end-stage AMD, an FDA approved telescopic lens can be implanted into the patient’s eye to project images onto parts of the retina that are still healthy.3
Telescope on glasses: https://lowvisionaids.org/blog/bioptic-telescopic-glasses-the-must-have-low-vision-aid/
There are also several devices available that can be worn around the neck or held in the hand to help with reading. These include video magnifiers, which use a small camera to magnify text and display it on an LCD screen.4 These devices can be especially helpful for people who have difficulty holding a book or newspaper steady, as they allow the user to easily move the magnified image around the page.
Video magnifiers: https://completelowvision.com/low-vision-devices/
For people who have difficulty seeing in low light conditions, there are low vision aids designed to increase contrast and brightness. These include lighted magnifiers,2 which have a built-in light source, and high-contrast reading materials, such as books with large print or bold typeface. Large print materials are available from the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled,5 and high-contrast themes in Windows can be enabled to make it easier to read Word documents.6 These aids can make it easier to see in dimly lit environments, such as at night or in poorly lit rooms.
In addition to these devices, there are several high-tech, adaptive technologies that can help people with low vision. For example, many smartphones and tablets now come with built-in accessibility features such as text-to-speech capabilities and magnified screens. There are also specialized software programs and apps that can be used to magnify text on a computer screen or read text out loud if the device does not have these capabilities built in.
A technology instructor at the San Diego Center for the Blind notes that low vision aids require proper training to be used effectively. Manufacturers of these products, such as HumanWare, partner with authorized dealers to provide training. The San Diego dealer for HumanWare is Sweetman Systems. Sweetman Systems can come to your home and demonstrate how to use their products. These technologies can make it easier for people with low vision to stay connected and access information.
Electronic magnifier (HumanWare): https://store.humanware.com/hus/explore-12-portable-video-magnifier.html?CAGPSPN=pla
While low vision aids can be helpful, it is important to remember that they are not a substitute for medical treatment. If you or a loved one is experiencing vision loss, it is important to see an eye care professional for a comprehensive eye exam. An eye care professional can determine the cause of the vision loss and recommend the appropriate treatment or low vision aids.
Low vision aids can be an invaluable resource for older adults with vision loss. From magnifying glasses and telescopic lenses to adaptive technologies and assistive devices, there are many options available to help people maintain their independence and improve their quality of life. If you or a loved one is experiencing vision loss, it is important to see an eye care professional for a complete eye exam and to discuss the available low vision aids.