People of any age can have at least some trouble seeing — but because seniors are more likely to develop diseases that can cause further harm to their eyesight, they also have a higher risk of vision loss than their younger counterparts.
For example, people over the age of 60 are particularly at risk for macular degeneration, which causes cells in the eyes to die, and glaucoma, a group of diseases that damages the optic nerve. And cataracts (or, a clouding of the eye's lens that can result in blurry vision) are present in more than half of Americans over the age of 80.
"Vision loss can be in two major categories, central vision loss and peripheral vision loss," says Sherry Day, OD, an assistant professor of optometry at the University of Michigan. With central vision loss, she explains, a person may have trouble distinguishing their friend's facial features, but be able to see her hair, shoulders, or clothing. With peripheral vision loss, people are increasingly unable to see objects out of the corner of their eyes.
The first step is to schedule a low vision exam with an eye doctor or low vision specialist. "The exams are customized for the patient to understand where their vision is at and how much magnification is needed to accomplish their personal vision goals," says Day. "Some people are avid readers and some people are painters, so their vision demands — and goals — are different."
That's where low vision devices come in. Magnifying glasses, telescopes, and even head-mounted technology can all help maximize your remaining eyesight. "Our hope is to provide people with independence," says Day. Here are four devices that can help you do just that.
Hand-held magnifiers can help you see objects that are near to you, such as newspapers, restaurant menus, or medicine labels. The pros: They're generally portable, inexpensive, and come in a variety of sizes and strengths. If you're going to be reading for a long period of time, however, you may want to opt for a stand magnifier, which can rest directly on a page without needing to be held in your hand. Many of these magnifiers also have built-in light to illuminate the text.
Closed circuit televisions systems (called CCTVs) are cameras that can magnify images or text and display them on a monitor. You can also change the contrast on the screen: "Sometimes, on the computer, the white background can create too much glare, making it harder to see," says Day. "We switch it to the black background with the white lettering, and a lot of patients will like that better." Some CCTVs also have voice functions as well, and can read text out loud to people, she says.
Portable digital magnifiers
Similar to electronic desktop magnifiers, these digital devices have a built-in camera that magnifies the text or image onto a monitor. The monitors can be anywhere from about 3 inches to 13 inches, and can be carried with you to a restaurant, library, or grocery store.
These wearable, head-mounted devices resemble glasses, and are especially helpful for people who are venturing outside their home. "When people go to a place that's not familiar, like the grocery store, it becomes difficult for them — especially if they don't have family and friends to help out," says Day. One such device is the Orcam, which uses technology to read text, recognize faces, and identify products (for example, foods at the grocery store); another is the eSight, which maximizes your eyesight by stimulating the photoreceptors in your eyes.