Jennifer Wood, O.D., FAAO

The term “visually impaired” is broad and consists of both individuals that are legally blind and those with low vision.  In the United States, legally blind is defined by the U.S. Social Security Administration as visual acuity in the better-seeing eye that is not correctable to 20/200 with glasses, contact lenses, or surgery. The definition can also be applied if one’s visual field is constricted to twenty degrees or less in the better-seeing eye. Americans are considered to have low vision if their best-corrected vision in the good eye is worse than 20/40; however, many would argue that the term should apply to anyone who is experiencing functional loss regardless of their visual acuity. Examples of functional vision loss include difficulty reading, seeing the faces of loved ones, or driving. In 2004, there were an estimated one million Americans over the age of 40 that were considered legally blind and another 2.4 million that were considered low vision. By 2020, these numbers are expected to increase approximately 70 percent. Additionally, there is an estimated 94,000 blind or visually impaired school-aged children living in the U.S.

Many studies implicate sensory impairments, such a vision loss, as determinants of health and mortality. A recent study conducted in Canada concluded that age-related sensory impairments, such as vision and hearing loss, were associated with reduced social interactions. Reduced social support is associated with loneliness and decreased coping strategies. It is also associated with cognitive decline, dementia, frailty, depression, and mortality.

Research indicates that low vision rehabilitation is an effective treatment, but it is often under-utilized. Low vision rehabilitation aims to help those affected with low vision maintain their independence and quality of life through the use of low vision devices, assistive technology, adaptive strategies, and training. Low vision rehabilitation is like any other form of rehabilitation; it takes work on the part of the individual and their family members/loved ones.

Northwest Hills Eye Care is privileged to work with the visually impaired. In addition to two optometrists specializing in low vision rehabilitation, we also have an occupational therapist to assist with device training and to teach adaptive strategies. Exciting developments, such as yoga classes and support groups for the visually impaired, are coming soon to assist with increased social interactions. If you or someone you know is struggling with vision loss, please contact us. We would love to assist you in your rehabilitative journey.

“Knowledge is love and light and vision.” – Helen Keller