Low vision creates opportunities to expand practices

Each year, millions of people lose a part of their vision. Due to the aging population in America, along with environmental changes, there is an increase of age-related conditions that affect vision loss.

Each year, millions of people lose a part of their vision. Due to the aging population in America, along with environmental changes, there is an increase of age-related conditions that affect vision loss.

Statistically, irreversible vision loss is most common among seniors over age 65. An estimated 10 million Americans have progressive retinal disease (PRD) and it afflicts one in four people older than 64. What's more, PRD is the leading cause of legal blindness in Americans over age 55.

Approximately one in 28 Americans 40 years and older is affected by low vision. New York-based Research to Prevent Blindness reports that one in 300 Americans age 18 and older has diabetic retinopathy. One in 600 has vision-threatening diabetic retinopathy. It is the leading cause of blindness in the industrialized world in people between 25 and 74. When conventional eyeglasses, contact lenses, surgery, or medicine do not improve the condition, low-vision aids are tools to be considered.

Many visually impaired people find that that it becomes more difficult to participate in day-to-day activities such as reading, watching television, shopping, cooking, and taking care of personal needs. They also experience difficulty getting around (i.e., driving, visiting friends, and participating in social events).

Education and compliance are key to living effectively with low vision. There are hundreds of low-vision aids available and many proven methods for contending with vision loss. The means to select the appropriate low-vision aid depend on many factors. Crucial to the selection process is understanding the type of vision loss, the degree of vision loss, and the ability and compliance of the patient to operate an appropriate aid.

The optimum place for a patient to obtain a comprehensive evaluation and expert recommendation for low-vision products is from an ophthalmologist who specializes in low-vision rehabilitation.

Ophthalmologists will discover that they can provide low-vision care to help enhance their patients' quality of life, and still find it financially rewarding. Most low-vision providers offer consultants to help you meet your goals by assisting you with:

Following a comprehensive low-vision eye examination, the ophthalmologist can either work directly with a manufacturer to assist the patient with the low-vision aid(s) that would best improve the vision or refer the patient to a low-vision specialist. Depending on your state, Medicare may cover much of the cost of the evaluation and training or therapy. However, they do not typically cover the cost of the low-vision aid.

Technology affords many ways to improve visual quality for patients with low vision. For example, the advantages of closed circuit television systems (CCTVs) over optical systems are a distinct technologic advance to the patient. Among the many benefits of CCTV are high magnification and capacity to regulate brightness and contrast as well as reverse the polarity of letters.

This year, affordable and portable CCTV systems have been getting the most consumer sales. They are lightweight, easy to carry, and relatively inexpensive. Optelec's compact CCTV unit weighs only 10 oz and is truly portable. Additional video magnifiers include the QuickLook from Ash Technologies, the PocketViewer from Pulse Data (HumanWare), the Pico and Olympia units from Telesensory, and the Traveller and Compact models from Optelec.

Clarity's Flex line features automatic focusing and can be used to view near or distant objects with variable contrast control. Eschenbach's Videolupe Plus is a combination CCTV and illuminated stand magnifier that easily connects to a television. The unit is lightweight, portable, and provides an optional reverse polarity feature (white text on a black background). Telesensory's Atlas and Genie Pro cameras provide clear images and details.

In addition to CCTVs, other commonly used low-vision aids include: