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When spectacles aren’t enough

Spectacles are an effective solution for refractive errors, but they may not be enough for people with low vision. Connie Angeli discusses options to improve the lives of this patient cohort.

Low vision is a condition where individuals experience significant visual impairment that cannot be fully corrected with conventional eyeglasses, contact lenses, or medical treatments. For individuals with low vision, spectacles or traditional eyeglasses may not always provide sufficient visual improvement to perform everyday tasks effectively. While spectacles can help in some cases, there are situations where they are not enough to meet the unique visual needs of people with low vision depending on the severity and nature of the visual impairment. Here, I will explore the limitations of spectacles for patients with low vision and alternative solutions to enhance their visual capabilities which work alone or in addition to conventional eyeglasses.

Connie Angeli, Human Ware 

“By collaborating with low vision specialists and exploring the latest technologies, we can continue to enhance the vision and independence of individuals with low vision.”

Limitations of specs in low vision

Magnification insufficiency: Spectacles are intended to correct refractive errors such as astigmatism, near sightedness, and farsightedness. While these devices can improve vision, they don’t provide sufficient magnification for people with low vision. To read, write, and perform other necessary tasks, patients with impaired vision frequently require higher magnification levels. Standard eyeglasses might not be able to offer enough enlargement for these tasks.

Limited field of view: Low vision often affects the peripheral vision or central vision, resulting in restricted field of view. Spectacles can’t make your field of vision wider. As a result, even when wearing eyeglasses, patients may have trouble navigating their surroundings, spotting obstacles, or identifying people.

Insufficient contrast enhancement: Low contrast sensitivity is a common symptom of low vision, which makes it challenging to differentiate items apart from their surroundings. Even while certain eyeglasses may include coatings or tints to improve contrast, they might not be sufficient for people with low vision.

Inability to address specific eye conditions: Certain eye conditions leading to low vision, such as macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa, cannot be effectively corrected with standard spectacles. These conditions involve damage to specific parts of the retina, which cannot be fully compensated for with regular eyeglasses.

Low vision Solutions  Magnifiers: A key component of visual assistance for people with limited vision is magnification. Various magnifiers are available, including handheld magnifiers, desktop magnifiers, and wearable magnifiers. These devices offer higher levels of enlargement, making it easier for patients to read books, newspapers, and labels, as well as perform other tasks requiring adequate near vision.

Telescopic devices: To improve distance vision, telescopic lenses and other accessories are used. They can be useful for things like TV watching, distant face recognition, and taking in outdoor events. Depending on the patient’s demands, telescopic glasses may be prescribed for monocular (one eye) or binocular (both eyes) use.

Closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs): CCTVs are electronic magnifying devices that reflect enlarged images from a camera onto a screen. For tasks requiring constant magnification, like reading, writing, and other activities, they are especially helpful. CCTVs offer a variety of customisable options, including text-to-speech functionality, contrast adjustments, and adjustable magnification levels.

Electronic devices and apps: Numerous electronic tools and smartphone apps have been created to help people with limited vision thanks to technological advancements. These might include mobile devices with built-in accessibility features, handheld electronic magnifiers, and specialised solutions that can recognise objects in real time or convert text to speech.

Prismatic devices: Prisms can be integrated into glasses to shift the image and expand the visual field for individuals with restricted peripheral vision. Prismatic glasses can be beneficial for those with conditions like hemianopia, where half of the visual field is lost in one or both eyes.

Training and Rehabilitation: Low vision individuals may need training and rehabilitation to fully utilise their equipment, even with the most innovative visual aids. The best way to use visual aids and modify daily routines to maximise independence can be learned through the assistance of low vision specialists, occupational therapists, and mobility and orientation specialists.

While spectacles are a common and effective solution for refractive errors, they may not be sufficient for individuals with low vision. The limitations of standard eyeglasses can significantly impact the quality of life for those with visual impairments.

Fortunately, a wide range of alternative solutions and assistive devices is available to help patients with low vision overcome these challenges. The field of low vision rehabilitation continues to advance, offering hope and empowerment to those affected. By collaborating with low vision specialists and exploring the latest technologies, we can continue to enhance the vision and independence of individuals with low vision, enabling them to lead more fulfilling lives. 

About the author: Connie Angeli has more than 34 years of experience as an optical dispenser, practice manager, educator, and assistive technology solution provider. She is Human Ware’s National Sales Manager for Australia and New Zealand and an Advisory Board Member for Optical Dispensers Australia.

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