Technology and tools can help seniors with low vision maintain their independence

Each day, approximately 10,000 Americans turn 65, and one in six adults this age and older has a vision impairment that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses.[i] As part of its support for Senior Independence Month this July, the Texas Ophthalmological Association along with the American Academy of Ophthalmology – the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons – is providing older adults with low vision guidance on how to make the most of their remaining sight and keep their independence.

An estimated 2.9 million Americans have low vision, which makes it difficult or impossible for them to accomplish activities such as reading, writing, shopping, watching television, driving a car or recognizing faces. Low vision can be caused by eye diseases that are more common in older people, such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. Fortunately, there are many strategies and resources available to people with low vision that can help them overcome these challenges. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that people with low vision and those that care for them to follow these tips: 

  • See an ophthalmologist. Those with low vision can improve their quality of life through low vision rehabilitation, which teaches people how to use their remaining sight more effectively and can be arranged through an ophthalmologist – a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions.
  • Make things bigger. Sit closer to the television or to the stage at performances. Get large books, phone dials and playing cards. Carry magnifiers for help with menus, prescription bottles and price tags.
  • Make things brighter. Make sure areas are well-lit and cover shiny surfaces to reduce glare. Consider increasing color contrasts as well. For instance, drink coffee from a white mug and always use a felt-tipped pen with black ink.
  • Use technology. Many of today’s newer technologies have applications that can help with low vision. For example, e-readers allow users to adjust the font size and contrast. Many smartphones and tablets can also be used to magnify print, identify cash bills and provide voice-navigated directions.
  • Organize and label. Designate spots for your keys, wallet and frequently used items in your refrigerator. Mark thermostats and dials with high contrast markers from a fabric store; label medications with markers or rubber bands; and safety-pin labels onto similarly colored clothing to tell them apart.
  • Participate. Don’t isolate yourself. Keep your social group, volunteer job, or golf game. It might require lighting, large print cards, a magnifier, a ride, or someone to watch your golf ball. Ask for the help you need. 

The Academy urges people who suspect they may have low vision to see an ophthalmologist for a proper diagnosis through a comprehensive eye exam. Seniors age 65 and older who are concerned about the cost of an eye exam may be eligible for EyeCare America, a public service program from the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology that provides medical eye exams and up to one year of care, often at no out-of-pocket cost. To see if you or your loved ones qualify for EyeCare America, visit www.eyecareamerica.org.

To learn more about age-related eye diseases and low vision resources, visit www.geteyesmart.org.