Archive for April, 2014

Technology for People with Low Vision

Posted on: April 22nd, 2014 by lowvision

Low vision, otherwise known as having reduced eyesight even with the aid of corrective lenses, is a condition with a variety of causes. One way technology is meeting low vision in the middle is with innovators producing gadgets that make navigating life easier. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the most effective devices people with low vision can use, and how it can make their lives easier.

iPhone and iPad
There’s no specific app or plug-in people need with these Apple products, as there’s a setting on the devices themselves that can help out. If you go into “Settings” and scroll down to “General”, tap on the “Accessibility” line. There, you can find several options designed to help people with low vision, such as “larger type”, “increase contrast” and “speak auto-text”.

These voice controls are particularly handy for people with low vision because it allows them to manipulate a smartphone as quickly and efficiently as normal-sighted people. Going one step further, the iPhone and iPad have numerous apps that can assist with low vision, such as the hardwired Siri (read this blog post for a firsthand account of Siri’s usefulness), Vlingo, which lets you dictate text and give phone commands, Dragon Dictation, and the voice-search option Google Chrome.

Readers with low vision can feel as though they’ve been robbed of the joy of reading, but devices such as audio books and e-readers are there to save the day. Libraries are a free way for people with low vision to enjoy literature, with a wide variety of titles available.

E-readers, on the other hand, give the person total control over what book they want to read, and they can select one from the comfort of their own home. A bit of a warning, though, as not all e-readers come with the ideal contrast settings. Two that do this are the second-generation Kindle Paperwhite, which offers a 50 percent increase in quality over the previous generation, and the Kobo Aura HD.

Google Glass
This device looks mostly like a pair of slim eyeglasses, but with a contraption on it that “sees” the world. And for people with low vision, it can light things up for them like never before. This article here shows two different ways how people who are blind or have low vision can “subtitle” their world in real-time, opening up doors they never imagined possible

3-D Printers
By inputting specifications, a 3-D printer will spit out a multidimensional copy of what you want instead of just an image on a flat piece of paper. While on the surface it appears that 3-D printers have no place in the world of people with low vision, NASA thinks otherwise.

NASA has teamed up with experts in visual impairment technology to produce pictures of space that visually impaired people can touch with their hands. So far, they’ve only focused on a star cluster called NGC 602, but they’ve incorporated many details of it: filaments, gas, dust and, of course, the stars themselves. NASA has been testing their prototype at various conferences in the last year, and debuted their findings at a press conference on January 7.

A company called Lighthouse, which specializes in improving quality of life for the visually impaired, has a free software program called LowBrowse. The only caveat is LowBrowse works with Mozilla Firefox, but this handy add-on scrolls a banner of text at the top, displaying what is beneath your cursor. Users can modify the text size, color, spacing, and style just to suit them, and runs on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux.
Many people with low vision are already well familiar with devices such as large print keyboards, fit-on screen magnifiers, and portable magnifiers. But the items on this list represent a bigger step forward, with technology seamlessly blending visually abled and impaired devices for a smoother experience.


Shining a Light on Low Vision: Bringing Seniors and Caregivers Together

Posted on: April 10th, 2014 by lowvision

Low vision is reduced vision that can’t be corrected with lenses, and occurs primarily in older adults. The degree of debilitation varies from senior to senior, but common complaints include blurred vision, tunnel vision, blind spots, or difficulty seeing up close or far away. It differs from blindness in that seniors still retain some vision, but not enough to go about daily activities completely independently. As it’s not an easy part of aging to adjust to or plan for, here’s how caregivers can help seniors who have low vision.

What to Say
Seniors can feel frustrated, frightened and angry at having their vision “stolen” from them, as it can prevent them from enjoying the activities they’ve grown to love. The main thing caregivers can say is to express their understanding of the senior’s low vision, and do so in a way that that’s sympathetic, not pitying.

As a caregiver, I find one of the key phrases that works best for seniors with low vision is, “What can I do to help you feel at ease, or make your life easier?” Seniors’ minds can’t be read, but they’ll appreciate a caregiver who takes the time to find out what will help them instead of what’s easy. Often times, seniors may want to vent about their low vision and as caregivers, listening is part of our responsibility. We don’t always have to be rushing around fetching things or moving seniors into more comfortable positions, as our title—giver of care—is open to many different interpretations.

Other verbalizations we can offer seniors may not even come in the way of asking them questions, but in reading them their favorite books, stories or newspapers. Without a low vision aid, seniors can miss out on being involved with the world by not being able to read the words in front of them. Once I’ve established a relationship with each senior and gotten to know their likes and dislikes, tastes, and preferences, I can jump right in and read to them in the way they’re used to. Some seniors like me to pause in the middle and engage in conversation about what we’re reading, while others just want to be around a soothing voice. It’s up to you as the caregiver to take the time to learn your senior’s personality.

What to Do
It’s important, as a caregiver, to help seniors retain as much independence and quality of life as possible. While they may not be able to do activities like driving or navigating new places easily, low vision doesn’t mean they’re cut off from life entirely. Rather, it’s just a bit of a learning curve to find the ideal point between what seniors are willing to do, what they can do, and what may be a danger for them to do.

Many senior-oriented activities are an excellent choice because they cater to their needs and offer experiences at a more relaxed pace, and there’s almost nothing that’s not a possibility. Even activities like cards, yoga, swimming or lawn bowling—activities where people usually think eyesight is key—are great for seniors.

Assisting seniors with activities may mean you have to take on a more physical role than usual, but it’s best to check with the senior just how much they’re comfortable with. Some of my seniors are fine with plenty of human contact, while others will only accept the bare minimum. With the latter, I can take them swimming and be there right beside them in the pool, guiding them along. For the latter, activities like Bingo are better suited for us.

What to Bring
If seniors have been diagnosed with low vision, they most likely have their own array of equipment and tools to help them along each day, such as digital magnifiers, speech recognition software, lighted handheld magnifiers, bioptic telescopes, special light fixtures, UV tinted eyewear, large-print material, visors, and many others.

I also find that most seniors are pretty comfortable with me bringing my own equipment to them, as long as I explain what it is first, how they can use it, and go at a slow, relaxed pace. Low vision is frightening enough for seniors without them needing to feel pressured or burdened by a caregiver “knowing all”, so take the time to establish trust right off the bat.

Another thing seniors appreciate is when I use my eyes to help theirs, such as rearranging a table lamp so it’s placed right on the task we’ll be doing, and shading the glare or reflection from their eyes. They still have some eyesight left, but their eyes tend to be more sensitive now. If possible, I also engage them away from reflective surfaces like Formica counter tops, ensure there’s not a huge difference in light levels, and place them with their backs to windows
One of my seniors impacted by low vision tends to be particularly affected by bright lights, so when we gather with other seniors to play Bingo, I take extra care in seating him. I wheel him to a section of the table where he’s in the middle of the overhead lights, give him his visor to put on, and take a few minutes to explain to him what his Bingo card numbers are (he has a very sharp memory and can recall all of them). Once the game starts, my role becomes just to watch and see he’s in comfort, and make sure he slides the right window on his Bingo card.

Being a caregiver for seniors with low vision is no different than being a caregiver in general. It’s just a matter of getting used to what they need, depending on the severity of their low vision and if it’s accompanied by any other conditions. It can also create a deeper bond between senior and caregiver because the latter is literally acting as the eyes for the former, and they become intertwined on a primal level.

Contributed by Jan Bolder from

Low Vision News Recap – March 2014

Posted on: April 4th, 2014 by lowvision

As March has come and gone, and Vision Expo East wraps up, below is a compilation of news you can use relating to low vision and eye health.

Exercising for Healthier Eyes
The New York Times
A new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that physical activity could protect eyes during the aging process. Exercise increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF) which help to keep neurons – especially those in the retina – healthy. The study exposed two groups of mice, one sedentary and one active, to bright light. After two weeks, the sedentary group lost almost 75 percent of their retina’s neurons, causing vision deterioration.

Color Vision Tends to Fade With Age: Study
Many people lose their ability to clearly distinguish certain colors as they age, with losses typically starting around age 70 and getting worse over time, according to a new study. Researchers believe that part of color vision deterioration is caused by the natural yellowing of the eye’s lens, which creates a yellow-like filter that disrupts “blue-yellow” vision. The silver lining, according to the article, is that loss of color vision doesn’t affect day-to-day life for seniors.

Ocular Trauma: Vision Loss in Vets with Traumatic Brain Injury
This article examines the growing vision problems experienced by Iraq war veterans. Issues are the result of traumatic brain injuries that can damage the cornea, retina, lens and optic nerves. In some cases, vision problems from ocular trauma don’t show up until three years after blunt force trauma . As a result, veterans may not know that they have eye damage until they have an eye exam or start having vision problems after they’ve left military service.

AMD Prediction Models Consider Genetics, Environmental Factors
Healio Optometry
Personalized care for adults with low vision was the subject of a Vision Expo East talk from Johanna M. Seddon, MD, ScM., a Professor of Ophthalmology at Tufts University School of Medicine. According to Seddon, more than 20 genetic variants that influence the risk of age-related macular degeneration have been identified. That knowledge, when combined with environmental considerations, can allow for personalized medicine and more patient-centered care options.

Thought of the month: We all know exercise reduces stress and keeps our hearts healthy. Now, the latest research tells us that exercise can help keep our eyes healthy too. What do you do to keep your mind, body and eyes fit? Let us know in the comments section.