Low vision is when you have lost a specific amount of eyesight. With low vision it is hard or nearly impossible to do many of your usual tasks.

Low vision can happen at any age. While more common in older adults, normal aging itself does not cause low vision. You can have low vision because of eye injuries and accidents. It can also be caused by conditions such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

Sometimes low vision can be enhanced with medication, surgery, eyeglasses or other options. If your poor vision cannot be improved, there are ways to adapt. You can learn new ways to make the most of the vision you do have. Here are some things to know.

Vision rehabilitation: using the vision you have

Vision rehabilitation is when people with low vision learn how to do things in different ways. You will learn new methods to read, write or do tasks at home. Or you can learn to use specific low-vision aids. For example, there are different kinds of magnifiers for close work and telescopes for distance.

Vision rehabilitation professionals may work with you as a team.

This team may include:

  • an ophthalmologist
  • a low-vision specialist
  • an occupational therapist
  • a rehabilitation teacher
  • an orientation and mobility specialist (helping you move around better)
  • a social worker
  • a counselor

Speak with your ophthalmologist to find vision rehabilitation programs and specialists for you in your area.

Low vision aids and techniques

There are multiple low vision aids and devices to help you with your daily activities. Have a discussion with your ophthalmologist or vision rehabilitation team about solutions for your specific needs. From talking watches to tablet computers, there are many low vision tools. Also ask if you will need training in how to use the devices.

Here are some low vision aids:

Optical low vision aids. Magnifying lenses make objects look larger and easier to see. Optical vision aids include:

  • Magnifying spectacles. Magnifying spectacles are worn like regular eyewear to keep your hands free. They can be used for reading, threading a needle, or doing other tasks you need to do up-close.

Stand magnifiers. These magnifiers rest above the object you are looking at. This aides you to keep the lens at a proper distance. Stand magnifiers can also help people who have a tremor or arthritis. Some stand magnifiers have built-in lights.

  • Hand magnifiers. There are magnifiers designed to help with different levels of vision. Some models have built-in lights.

  Telescopes. These are used to help see objects or signs that are further away. Some telescopes can be attached to eyeglasses. Others are held like binoculars.

  • Video magnifiers. These electronic devices make printed pages, pictures, or other tiny objects look larger. You often can adjust them to meet your specific vision needs. For example, with certain magnifiers you can add contrast to make printed words darker. There are a lot of new video magnifiers. Talk with your ophthalmologist about which ones can help you.

Low vision devices. These are designed to help with everyday tasks. They include:

  • Audio books and electronic books.

With audio books, you can listen to text that is read aloud. With electronic books like Kindle®, Nook® and others, you can adjust word size and contrast to your needs.

  • Smartphones and tablets let you alter word size, adjust lighting and use voice commands. There also are many applications (apps) to choose from, such as programs that read material aloud.

Computers that can read aloud or magnify what is shown on the screen.

  • Talking items for example, watches, timers, blood pressure cuffs, and blood sugar machines.

Large-print books, newspapers, magazines, playing cards and bank checks.

  • Telephones, thermostats, watches and remote controls with large-sized digits and high contrast colors.

Low vision techniques help you do everyday tasks.

For instance:
Increase the amount of light in your house. Replace light bulbs with higher watt bulbs and add more lamps in lower-light areas.

Reduce glare inside and outside. Adjust lights inside so they don’t create glare. Cover your eyes by wearing a wide-brimmed hat or wrap-around sunglasses outside.

Create more contrast around your house. Use a colored tablecloth with white dishes, for instance. Or put dark contact paper on a desk where you have white papers.

Use heavy, bold felt tip markers when you write everyday lists or take notes.

Summary

If you have low vision, there are many methods to use your remaining sight. There are vision rehabilitation specialists who help you learn to do things in new ways. There are also low vision aids, devices and techniques to help you do everyday activities.

If you have any concerns about your eyes or your vision, speak with your ophthalmologist. He or she is committed to protecting your sight.