It’s no secret that aging and changes in vision are related to one another. Although eye disorders and loss of vision can affect people throughout their lives, the prevalence of vision loss is likely to grow as you age. A recent report from Prevent Blindness America puts the economic burden of eye disorders and vision loss in the U.S. at $139 billion. That’s why access to low vision resources—such as low vision devices and vision rehabilitation services—is so important to individuals 60+ who are struggling to see and to maintain an independent lifestyle.
I recently heard Dr. Michael Fischer, Chief of Optometry Service at Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, speak at Prevent Blindness’ Washington, DC Focus on Eye Health Summit. In addition to offering background on the problem of low vision in the U.S., he offered key points that he calls the “Four A’s of Low Vision: Access, Awareness, Availability and Acceptance.”
A few facts first: The U.S. has an aging population. By the year 2020, there will be close to 90 million people in the U.S. 65 years of age or older.
- Age-related macular degeneration is the #1 cause of vision impairment in people 55+ in U.S.;
- Diabetic retinopathy is the #1 cause of vision impairment in the working age U.S. population
- 25.8M people in the U.S. have diabetes and another estimated 7M are undiagnosed;
- Of people 40+, 2.9M have some degree of vision impairment, not including blindness.
Recognizing the symptoms of low vision early and taking the proper actions may help preserve sight and in some cases, can lessen the advance of low vision.
Dr. Fischer highlighted four reasons specifically that are challenges for low vision sufferers.
Access—Low vision progresses slowly. The ultimate goal for low vision patients and their doctors is to detect low vision early in order to maintain remaining sight and prevent further deterioration in vision. Scheduling a regular visit to an eye care provider is an important step in maintaining eye health. If you know someone who needs transportation to or from the eye exam, help him/her find a way to get there. Second, who’s going to pay/cover services? Medicare doesn’t cover all vision care; however, it does cover certain types of therapy including vision rehabilitation. Having access to an eye care provider or vision rehabilitation specialist will help restore and maintain the independence that is so important to older individuals today.
Awareness— Eye care providers don’t always spend time on a low vision assessment. It is important for individuals to explain any vision changes to their eye care provider and to ask for a low vision assessment if their symptoms are representative of low vision. Look out for elderly family, friends and neighbors who might be experiencing some of the signs of low vision and help them know that low vision exams exist and can help them with their vision concerns.
Availability— Not every eye care provider is a low vision specialist. Eye care providers will be able to recognize low vision symptoms, and if they are not able to do an assessment, they should be able to refer their patients to a specialist. Signs of low vision are broader than presbyopia (the need for reading glasses in order to focus on near objects) and include:
- Areas of blurred or distorted vision or spots and blotches in vision
- Shadowed or darkened field of view or noticeable loss of peripheral vision
- A gradual loss of central vision
- Cloudy and blurred vision or exaggerated “halos” around bright lights
- Blind spots in your field of view
Acceptance–It is difficult for a person of any age to admit that his or her vision is deteriorating. Eye patients are often looking for a “cure” for their low vision—such as a stronger glasses prescription or a medical solution. Low vision patients need the appropriate counsel and the comfort of knowing that with vision rehabilitation and low vision devices, most people can remain independent for many years.
To get started on the search for a low vision specialist, start here on www.whatislowvision.org by clicking on ‘Find a Low Vision Specialist.’