Various eye diseases can rob vision and make navigating life harder. Low vision is a condition in which vision is 20/70 or worse in the best seeing eye and cannot be corrected by standard eyeglasses, contact lenses, medications, or surgery. This eyesight threshold means that an object that an average person could see clearly 70 feet away, you would need to be 20 feet away. Low vision can make everyday activities difficult like cooking, cleaning, reading, watching TV, getting around town, and hobbies that you love. Currently, 4.2 million Americans ages 40 and older are visually impaired. By 2030, when the last baby boomers turn 65, this number is projected to reach 7.2 million, with 5 million having low vision.
Patterns of Vision and Vision Loss
- Central Vision is the detailed perception we have when looking directly at an object and doing fine tasks. Macular degeneration and macular edema make central vision blurry.
- Peripheral Vision is the less detailed side vision we have for everything we are not looking directly at. Glaucoma and Retinitis Pigmentosa affect peripheral vision first. Strokes can affect one side of peripheral vision. Diabetic retinopathy can affect central or peripheral vision.
- Monocular Vision is when one eye has much less vision than in the other eye. This can impair fine depth perception.
- Charles Bonnet Syndrome is when those with severe vision loss see repeated-life like images that they know are not real. About 20 to 30 percent of people with vision loss see these visual hallucinations. It does not mean you’re crazy, it is your brain trying to interpret the limited signals it is receiving from your eyes.
Vision rehabilitation are the strategies that help maximize remaining vision and maintain independence and quality of life. Changes in lighting, contrast, magnification and vision rehabilitation can make your day to day life easier. There are many new technologies that are of great assistance to people with low vision. Cell phone cameras can magnify and smartphone applications can help you identify objects and colors, or read barcodes. Losing vision does not mean giving up your activities, but it may mean learning new ways to do them.
In addition to the functional limitations that low vision brings, it can also bring feelings of anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. It is important to acknowledge the anger and frustration you may feel upon learning that your vision loss is irreversible. Getting the help you need to work through these feelings and become aware of the strategies of vision rehabilitation will help keep you active and avoid depression. Low vision does not mean that your life is over. Counseling and a good support group can help you recognize that your value to yourself and others does not depend on your vision and that you are worth the effort it takes to learn to make the most of the vision you have. We encourage you to pursue your beloved activities as long as you are able and to find creative solutions to get the most out of life.
One great support system in our local community is the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Grand Rapids. They are an invaluable resource for the West Michigan area offering vision rehabilitation services, counseling, peer support groups, vision aids, and much more. Let us know in any way we can help or direct you to resources that could help. We can help make a referral to ABVI or see if participation in a clinical trial would be right for you. Call us today at (616) 954-2020.