managing vision loss
Managing vision loss begins with identifying your visual goals. The more specific the goals, the better the professionals can help to develop strategies and prescribe vision aids for your situation. Making a list of tasks that are frustrating, or tasks that you no longer can do, is a good beginning point in identifying your visual goals. Everyone’s lifestyle is different and helping the professionals understand what is important to you is key.
Simple things that should be on your list include reading the mail, seeing the thermostat on the wall and working the microwave. The list should also include other important things such as hobbies or crafts, favorite leisure activities, or specific work tasks. These may include using your computer, operating your cell phone, and what types of travel are important to you. You may have 40 or 50 items on your list after several weeks. Now, before attending a low vision service, rewrite the list in order of priority. That is, what are your top ten visual goals?
It takes time to learn how to adapt to every situation on your list. As your needs change, it is important to return to low vision services. Other services such as orientation and mobility training can help you to learn skills necessary for independent travel. Joining a low vision support group can help a person to not only manage their life situation but can assist them in improving their quality of life.
Low vision evaluations
There are special services sometimes called low vision services or low vision rehabilitation services available in many areas of the country around the world. These services differ from traditional medical eye services and exist specifically to help patients regain visual function and maintain a good quality of life after vision loss.
Patients who need help to regain functional vision can first ask their ophthalmologist where they can find low vision services.
Low vision rehabilitation may include several professionals who work as a team to help the patient in regaining function and quality of life. Many low vision specialists are optometrists who have special training in low vision as a specialty. They are able to measure vision in a precise way and prescribe many different types of vision aids for reading, seeing in the distance, as well as tasks such as using a computer or playing music.
Vision aids traditionally come in many different sizes and shapes. These includes strong reading glasses or higher powered bifocals, hand-held and stand magnifiers and other aids such as telescopic glasses. Most patients who have used vision aids to function better often use a variety of aids. That is, they may use four or five different devices for different tasks.
Training on the use of each of these devices is often carried out by another team member such as an occupational therapist or low vision therapist. Not only does it take time to learn how to use each device, but it also takes time to learn which device is best in which situation in helping with everyday life tasks. The word rehabilitation simply refers to this process of practicing and learning how to maximize one’s function over time. At first, progress may be slow and frustrating, but with time and practice visual function can be successfully attained.
Other professionals who may provide service for low vision rehabilitation include psychologists or therapists who may help with coping skills for those struggling with their emotional reaction to the vision loss which is common.
An Orientation and Mobility specialist is another professional who can teach skills to the visually impaired for independent travel, including tops for using the bus, train or air travel, or simply crossing the street or navigating new environments.
Many states also allow special services and vision aids for driving, called bioptic driving. Driving rehabilitation professionals may work closely with the low vision optometrist who can prescribe a pair of bioptic telescope glasses for those who fit the criteria of each state that can allow bioptic driving.
How to find a low vision center and/or clinician
Low vision services can be recommended by an ophthalmologist or eye care specialist.
There are also many comprehensive low vision rehabilitation services for veterans through the Veterans Administration. A veteran may want to contact a VIST or BROS coordinator at their local VA hospital.
The American Foundation for the Blind website, www.afb.org, has a directory of low vision services.
Each state Optometric Association can provide a list of optometrists who specialize in low vision and provide low vision services as part of their private practice.
The types of service provided by different low vision clinics may vary greatly. Some clinics may not have other professionals who work together to provide comprehensive service, and other services may not keep up with new technology, which has become more and more important in providing new options for patients and families. You may want to contact several different services and ask them about their level of low vision care, service providers and types of technology offered.
There are many nonprofit organizations or agencies who serve the visually impaired or blind that provide low vision service. Each state may have several agencies ,and in larger cities there may be some agencies that provide not only low vision services, but job training, employment, education, and even senior services to help seniors who are visually impaired.
There are many states that provide services to persons who are blind or visually impaired, often called the Department of Rehabilitation Services or Department of Human Services. For patients of employment age, there are also Vocational Rehabilitation Services. The services are usually divided by county or region so you may want to contact the regional office for your county. Ask for a rehabilitation counselor who serves the visually impaired and blind.