Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences

February is Low Vision Awareness Month

Low vision means that even with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery, people find everyday tasks difficult to do. Reading the mail, shopping, cooking, and writing can seem challenging. The chief causes of vision loss in older people are age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, cataract, and glaucoma. Among younger Americans, low vision is most often caused by inherited eye conditions, infectious and autoimmune eye disease, or trauma.

A 2012 report cosponsored by the National Institutes of Health estimates that 2.9 million Americans are living with low vision. The number is projected to increase 72 percent by 2030 when the last of the baby boomers turn 65. Most people with low vision are 65 years old or older.

Anyone with low vision is encouraged to seek guidance about vision rehabilitation from a low vision specialist. For many people, vision rehabilitation can improve daily living and overall quality of life.

A low vision specialist is an ophthalmologist or optometrist who specializes in the care of patients with low vision. A low vision specialist can develop a rehabilitation plan that identifies strategies and assistive devices appropriate for a person’s particular needs, which vary depending on the person’s age and the source and severity of vision loss. As described in the new NIH booklet and videos, vision rehabilitation services include:

  • training to use magnifying and adaptive devices
  • learning new daily living skills to remain safe and live independently
  • developing strategies to navigate inside and outside the home
  • providing resources and support to help patients with vision loss

“A vision rehabilitation plan helps people reach their true visual potential when nothing more can be done from a medical or surgical standpoint,” said Mark Wilkinson, O.D., a low vision specialist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and a  NEI National Eye Health Education Program (NEHEP) planning committee member. “Vision rehabilitation can make a world of difference to a person adjusting to vision loss and should be considered part of the continuum of care. I urge health professionals to help their patients with low vision seek vision rehabilitation services.”

Statistics on low vision are taken from the report, 2012 Fifth Edition of Vision Problems in the U.S., available on the NEI website at http://www.nei.nih.gov/eyedata.

The new NEI booklet and videos along with other resources for people with low vision can be viewed and downloaded at http://www.nei.nih.gov/lowvision.