Living with Low Vision

Coping with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and vision loss can profoundly affect your life. This is especially true if you have just begun to lose your vision or have low vision. Having low vision means that even with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery, you find everyday tasks difficult to do. Activities like reading, shopping, cooking, writing, and watching TV may be hard to do.
However, help is available. You may not be able to restore your vision, but low vision services can help you make the most of what is remaining. You can continue enjoying friends, family, hobbies, and other interests just as you always have. The key is to not delay use of these services.

What is low vision?
When you have low vision, eyeglasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery may not help. Millions of Americans lose some of their sight every year. While vision loss can affect anyone at any age, low vision is most common for those over age 65.
Low vision is usually caused by eye diseases or health conditions. Some of these include AMD, cataract, diabetes, and glaucoma. Eye injuries and birth defects are some other causes. Whatever the cause, lost vision cannot be restored. It can, however, be managed with proper treatment and vision rehabilitation.
You should visit an eye doctor if you experience any changes to your eyesight.

How do I know if I have low vision?
Below are some signs of low vision. Even when wearing your glasses or contact lenses, do you still have difficulty with—

  • Recognizing the faces of family and friends?
  • Reading, cooking, sewing, or fixing things around the house?
  • Selecting and matching the color of your clothes?
  • Seeing clearly with the lights on or feeling like they are dimmer than normal?
  • Reading traffic signs or the names of stores?

These could all be early warning signs of vision loss or eye disease. The sooner vision loss or eye disease is detected by an eye doctor, the greater your chances of keeping your remaining vision.

How do I know when to get an eye exam?
Visit your eye doctor regularly for a comprehensive dilated eye exam. However, if you notice changes to your eyes or eyesight, visit your eye doctor right away!

What can I do if I have low vision?
To cope with vision loss, you must first have an excellent support team. This team should include you, your eye doctor, and other specialists in low vision therapy. Together, the low vision team can help you make the most of your remaining vision and maintain your independence.
Second, talk with your eye doctor about your vision problems. Find out where you can get more information about support services and adaptive devices. Also, find out which services and devices are best for you and which will give you the most independence.
Third, ask about vision rehabilitation. Vision rehabilitation programs offer a wide range of services, including training for magnifying and adaptive devices, ways to complete daily living skills safely and independently, guidance on modifying your home, and information on where to locate resources and support to help you cope with your vision loss.

What are some low vision devices?
Because low vision varies from person to person, specialists have different tools to help patients deal with vision loss. They include:

  • Reading glasses with high-powered lenses
  • Handheld magnifiers
  • Video magnifiers
  • Computers with large-print and speech-output systems
  • Large-print reading materials
  • Talking watches, clocks, and calculators
  • Computer aids and other technologies, such as a closed-circuit television, which uses a camera and television to enlarge printed text

Keep in mind that low vision aids without proper diagnosis, evaluation, and training may not work for you. It is important that you work closely with your low vision team to get the best device or combination of aids to help improve your ability to see.