Support Group Meeting
Date: Saturday, February 4th
Time: 10 a.m.
Location: Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary
243 Charles Street, Boston
8th floor board room
When wearing your usual glasses or contact lenses, if any:
- Are you having trouble recognizing faces of friends and relatives?
- Is it hard to distinguish clothing colors when dressing?
- Have close-up tasks like cooking, reading, sewing or fix-it work become trickier to manage due to your sight?
- Do lights seem dimmer than in the past at work or home?
- Is it hard to pick out signs for streets, buses or stores? A ‘yes’ response to any of the questions may be a sign of low vision. “If you notice problems like these, or other changes in your vision, it’s important to check with an eye care professional,” said Dr. Jan Cook, medical director of Innovation & Leadership at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “Correct diagnosis and treatment may be able to improve certain aspects of your eyesight and keep your vision from growing worse.”
What is low vision?
Impaired eyesight that can’t be corrected with glasses, contacts, surgery or medicine is called low vision. It makes everyday tasks harder to do.
While many older people have low vision, it’s not a normal part of aging. It stems from certain eye disorders.
Which eye disorders can lead to low vision?
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The macula is a structure in the middle of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that turns images into signals shuttled to the brain through the optic nerve. AMD slowly destroys the sharp central vision vital to tasks like reading or driving and for clearly seeing any object. AMD may be wet (abnormal blood vessel growth damages the macula rapidly), or dry (light-sensitive cells in the macula break down slowly, causing a blurry spot in the center of your vision)
- Diabetic retinopathy. A major cause of adult blindness, this complication of diabetes damages blood vessels in the retina. Gaining good control of blood sugar helps slow the onset, or progress, of this disorder.
- Glaucoma. Conditions causing increased pressure in the eye may harm the optic nerve, thus prompting partial or complete loss of vision. Lowering this pressure in various ways can slow or stop the progress of glaucoma. If you are over age 60 — or over age 40 and African American — or if you have certain illnesses or a family history of glaucoma, you’re at higher risk. Having diabetes nearly doubles the normal risk for developing glaucoma, according to the National Eye Institute.
- Cataract. Clouding of the lens in the eye, which focuses light on the retina, causes blurred, dulled vision. Risk for cataracts is increased by diabetes, smoking, prolonged sun exposure, family history and eye injuries. Aging factors in, too. More than half of Americans have cataracts (or surgery for cataracts) by age 80.
A comprehensive dilated eye exam is the best way to catch these often silent eye problems before they do too much damage. Ask your doctor or eye care professional how often to have this exam given your health, family history and age.
What day-to-day problems can low vision cause?
Low vision affects independence and safety. Everyday tasks like reading, cooking and navigating beyond your front door becomes difficult. Driving may be unsafe. Simple acts like recognizing a loved one, reading a street sign or coordinating an outfit may be impossible.
How can you cope with low vision?
Lighting, glare and contrast affect low vision. These tips from the Glaucoma Research Foundation and other experts can help.
- Turn it down. Ease glare with amber or dark yellow lenses and caps with visors. Try covering shiny surfaces with fabric.
- Turn it up. Add lighting where necessary, especially on stairways and in often-used areas like the kitchen, bathroom and closet. Aim for an even glow throughout a room, plus extra task lighting.
- Use contrasts. Try contrasting colors on placemat and plate, stair landings, chopping boards (white onion, dark board) and even furniture (dark chair against light wall). Put colored tape on stair edges and pot handles. Pour coffee into a white mug.
- Consider helpful products. Some examples are power-ful magnifiers; devices and software to enlarge type, read text aloud and transcribe spoken words; large-button phones and remotes.
- Visit a low vision clinic. Rehabilitation specialists can help you decide on priorities, learn strategies for getting the most from your sight plus other senses and choose aids to help you accomplish tasks and enjoy life. Check with your health care plan or state services for visually impaired people.