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February is Low Vision Month

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Don’t Let Low Vision Take Control of Your Life

While low vision sounds like a pretty harmless term, it can have a traumatic impact on the quality of someone’s life. Low vision is defined as a visual impairment that is not correctable through glasses or contact lenses, medication or surgical intervention. It can make everyday activities such as reading the mail, writing, cooking, shopping, watching TV and driving difficult or impossible, and it’s more common than you think.

Is Low Vision Preventable?
The Vision Council estimates that up to 80 percent of cases dealing with visual impairment are considered preventable. Through annual comprehensive eye exams, an eye care provider can diagnose and treat many eye conditions early in the disease progression. In many cases, timely care can delay or prevent vision loss.

Low vision affects 1 in 28 Americans over the age of 40 and the trend is expected to increase over the next 20 years. Typically people with low vision are elderly (65+) who have developed diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts. Although younger people can be affected too – most commonly as a result of inherited eye conditions, infectious and autoimmune eye diseases, and traumatic injury. In most cases, once vision is lost, the condition is permanent. However, early diagnosis and treatment of many age-related eye conditions can slow or prevent vision loss altogether, making regular comprehensive eye exams vital.

While the cost of medical care for individuals with low vision is steep – $68 billion annually – the psychological effects are much farther reaching. Low vision takes a toll both physically and emotionally, impacting a person’s independence, well-being and the quality of life, often making life’s everyday activities seem overwhelming, resulting in depression, isolation and a feeling of hopelessness. Maximizing the remaining sight is imperative in helping them maintain their independence and live safe, productive and rewarding lives.

The good news is that there’s help for people suffering from low vision. Vision rehabilitation services are available to help people make the most of their remaining vision. Innovations in low vision tools, technology and treatment can provide people with severe vision impairments with options for enhancing remaining vision and delaying disease progression.

Dr. Kim Nguyen-Vuong, optometrist and low vision specialist at EYE-Q Vision Care, offers vision rehabilitation guidance for those suffering with low vision. Dr. Nguyen-Vuong works with the patient and their family to develop a vision rehabilitation plan specifically for the patient’s individual needs. Dr. Nguyen-Vuong can offer strategies and therapies to accomplish key goals, assist with learning alternate ways of performing daily activities at home and in the community, and recommend the use of any tools or devices such as magnifiers, telescopes and other electronic devices that will help in maintaining an independent life.

Unfortunately, a general lack of awareness about the technology available today, as well as the stigma associated with being visually impaired, leads to an underutilization of these visual and adaptive devices. It’s estimated that only 20 percent of adults living with severe vision impairment utilize these devices. Consulting a low vision specialist and educating oneself about all of the options available can make the difference in a person’s ability to continue to lead an independent and productive life.

Impact of Vision Loss Goes Far Beyond the Financial Implications

  • Disability: Vision loss is the leading cause of age-related disability. 
  • Falls: 24,000 Americans over 65 succumbed to injuries sustained in falls. 
  • Isolation: 40-50% of older adults with chronic eye disorders limited their activities. 
  • Mental health: 10% of elderly individuals with severe vision impairment have major depressive disorder and 1/3 of those with vision loss suffer from clinical depression – twice the rate of the general population of older adults.

Source: The Vision Council, “Vision Loss in America: Aging and Low Vision” 2015 Low Vision Report.