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National Health Observances

Vision Rehabilitation: Helping People with Low Vision

What is low vision?

Low vision is a visual impairment that cannot be corrected by standard eyeglasses, contact lenses, medication, or surgery. Activities like reading, shopping, cooking, writing, and watching TV may be hard to do. The consequences of vision loss may leave people feeling anxious, helpless, and depressed. So, it is important to remind them that there is hope.

What is vision rehabilitation?

Vision rehabilitation helps people adapt to vision loss and maintain their current lifestyle. A vision rehabilitation program offers a wide range of services, including training in the use of magnifiers and other adaptive devices, ways to complete daily living skills safely and independently, guidance on modifying residences, and information on where to locate resources and support. These programs typically include a team of professionals consisting of a primary eye care professional and an optometrist or ophthalmologist specializing in low vision. Occupational therapists, orientation and mobility specialists, certified low vision therapists, counselors, and social workers may also be a part of this team.

What causes low vision?

Low vision is usually caused by eye diseases or other health conditions. Some of these include age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetes, and glaucoma; diseases for which older adults are at higher risk. Eye injuries and birth defects are other causes. Whatever the cause, lost vision often cannot be restored. It can, however, be managed with proper treatment and vision rehabilitation.

What are the signs of low vision?

Difficulty with any of the following—even when wearing glasses or contact lenses—could be an early warning sign of vision loss or eye disease:

  • Recognizing faces
  • Getting around the neighborhood
  • Sewing or fixing things around the house
  • Selecting and matching the color of clothes

The sooner vision loss or eye disease is detected, the greater the chances of keeping the remaining vision.

How many people have low vision?

According to NEI, 4.2 million Americans ages 40 and older are visually impaired. Of these, 3 million have low vision. By 2030, when the last baby boomers turn 65, the number of Americans who have visual impairments is projected to reach 7.2 million, with 5 million having low vision.

Who is at higher risk for low vision?

Vision loss can affect anyone at any age, but low vision is most common for those over age 65. African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos are at a higher risk for vision loss from diseases such as glaucoma and diabetic eye disease, while whites are more at risk for vision loss from age-related macular degeneration.