Learning you have a detrimental eye health issue is a terrifying thing. Many people who learn that they’re facing vision loss or who start to experience vision loss often feel scared, lost, and even hopeless and depressed. However, there are several options to help those with vision loss continue to live their lives to their fullest potential.
Build a Support System
First and foremost, having a good support system is critical. Whether it’s family, friends, neighbors, doctors, nurses, or community members, you’ll need a group of people who can offer help, care, and support if/when you need it.
When it comes to vision, there are a lot of environmental factors that can play a part in how well you can see. Here are some ways to improve your visual abilities.
- Lighting – obviously, a well-lit area is easier to maneuver than a dimly lit one. However, few realize how helpful a well-aimed gooseneck lamp can be when working on a task. Other ways you can improve lighting include carrying a small pocket flashlight and replacing light bulbs with higher-watt bulbs. If there’s an area of the house that’s typically darker than others, consider adding a lamp or two. Yes, two lamps. The brighter, the better!
- Glare – glare, or the reflection of light off a surface, can be debilitating, even for those who can see well It’s helpful to remove any kind of reflective surfaces from under lights or add a covering so they don’t produce glare. You can also adjust your lights, so they don’t create glare, and adding sheer curtains can help reduce the amount of direct light bouncing off reflective surfaces without compromising the brightness of the room. When outdoors, wearing hats and/or sunglasses can help reduce the impact of glare on your eyes. These tips are helpful for everyone, but especially for those with eye health issues.
- Contrast – contrast sensitivity is the ability to distinguish two items of similar colors. Increase your contrast in your home by using a colored tablecloth and white dishes or using black contact paper on a light desk so you can see white papers easily. Additionally, using heavy, large-tipped markers can help you see what you write better.
Vision therapy is another commonly recommended aid for those suffering with vision loss. This therapy teaches you several techniques to help you not only cope but thrive in your daily environment. A common technique is called finding your “next-best spot.” It helps you become comfortable with seeing either peripherally or using a different “spot” other than your central vision to help you navigate. While this takes some magnification, training, and time, it can be quite successful for many people.
Your rehab team will likely consist of an ophthalmologist and a low vision specialist, an occupational therapist, a rehabilitation teacher, a social worker and counselor, an orientation and mobility specialist, (who focuses on safe, independent travel), and an assistive technology professional. This team will help you maximize your vision and live your life to the fullest. When choosing a vision rehabilitation service, there are several things you’ll receive:
- A vision evaluation by an eye care professional
- Prescriptions for devices and other remedies
- Know that some devices can be loaned before purchase and/or are returnable.
- Rehabilitation training and mobility services
- A home assessment
- Resources and support groups
- Your vision therapy team will likely offer additional support groups to accompany your personal support system.
Low Vision Tools
The assistive technology professional on your vision therapy team will offer several types of tools to help you succeed in your day-to-day life. We (and by “we”, we mean the American Academy of Ophthalmology) have categorized these tools into optical, non-optical, and electronic.
- Correctly refracted glasses – while this may seem a bit obvious, it’s extremely important to get updated prescription lenses. This can make an incredible difference in the ease of daily tasks.
- Magnifying spectacles – worn like regular corrective frames, magnifying spectacles help enlarge the smaller details of a task your working on such as reading or sewing while keeping your hands free. However, the task often needs to be held at a very close proximity to the eyes.
- Stand magnifiers – an alternative to magnifying spectacles, this magnifier is stationary and rests above the task you’re working on to help keep the lens at the right distance. Some stand magnifiers even have built-in lights, and these tools can be extremely helpful for those who have tremors or arthritis.
- Handheld magnifiers – the counterpart of the stand magnifier, this tool does that same thing only while held in your hand. Typically used for print material, these handheld magnifiers can also have built-in lights.
- Telescopes – we know this sounds a bit silly, but telescopes can be immensely helpful when trying to see objects that are far away. They can attach to your eyeglasses or be handheld.
- Larger text sizes – print material like books, newspapers, magazines, playing cards, and bank checks all have options of coming with larger print to make them easier to see. Increasing the contrast on these things can also increase the ease of use. Phones (both landlines and cell phones), thermostats, watches, and remotes also have options with larger text sizes and higher contrast.
- Simplification tools – these tools are typically not necessary for seeing better, but they make life a lot easier. Things like needle threaders and magnifying mirrors help keep you doing the things you love every day. Other tools like textured or tactile labels can make identifying different things that look similar much easier.
- Video magnifiers – this is the 21st-century version of the magnifying spectacles. These devices can be portable or stationary, and they use a camera-screen combo to enlarge printed materials like books or pictures and other small objects. The settings can be adjusted to your unique visual needs, like increasing contrast, and some can even read the text aloud.
- Audio enhancements – several technologies like watches, timers, and even blood pressure or blood glucose monitors can come with audio settings that help it announce each reading. Smartphones and tablets also come with voice commands, and these technologies along with computers can be equipped with apps that read material aloud and magnify what’s on the screen. Audio and electronic books make it easier to enjoy a page-turner by listening in or changing the visual settings.
There are many different technologies on the market, so it’s best to ask your vision therapy team for which is the best option(s) for you.
Stay in Tune with Your Vision
The most important thing is to keep an eye on your vision (pun intended). Staying in tune with your eye health can help you recognize any changes quickly and, hopefully, stop it from getting worse. Get regular eye exams – either annually or bi-annually depending on your needs – and talk to your eye care professional about any changes you’ve noticed.
For people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), your eye care professional will likely give you an Amsler grid. AMD symptoms often include wavy or distorted lines, and this tool is used to help identify those changes earlier than in a day-to-day setting. Some tips for using an Amsler grid include:
- Keep the Amsler grid in a place where you’ll see it every day (i.e. the refrigerator door or bathroom mirror), preferably somewhere well lit.
- Look at the grid from a little more than a foot away – wear whatever glasses you would use normally to see.
- Cover one eye and look directly at the dot in the center of the grid. Take note if any of the lines look bent or wavy or if any part of the grid looks blurry, dim, or out of shape. Then repeat with the other eye.
Finally, another seemingly obvious one, follow all the recommendations of your eye care professional to the best of your abilities. They only want the best outcomes for you, and they’re telling you the ways to get there. Whether it’s taking a break from screens or taking a daily vitamin, it’s up to you to follow through!
Ultimately, we want you to know that vision loss does not mean the loss of quality of life. There are many ways to alter or add things to your daily routine that can help build your confidence and help you maintain your independence. While all these tools and techniques are great, the best way to maintain long-term vision is to maintain healthy vision by being proactive.
Proactive Eye Care
What does that look like? Being proactive means doing all the necessary things to keep your eyes healthy before any signs of deterioration. Simple, proactive ways to support your eye health are eating well and exercising. While eating a healthy diet is ideal, most Americans don’t get the amounts of eye-healthy nutrients in their daily food intake. Therefore, we recommend a daily eye vitamin like EyePromise Restore. It’s packed with high-quality ingredients like dietary zeaxanthin and lutein, Vitamin B6 and B12, folic acid, and CoQ10 to support aging eyes and keep them performing at their best.