Living with Vision Impairment

What is low vision?

Low vision means that even with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery, people find everyday tasks difficult to do.

Millions of Americans lose some of their vision every year. Irreversible vision loss is most common among people over age 65.

Is losing vision just part of getting older?

No. Some normal changes in our eyes and vision occur as we get older. However, these changes usually don't lead to low vision. Most people develop low vision because of eye diseases like macular degeneration, cataract, glaucoma, or health conditions, for example, diabetes. While vision that's lost usually cannot be restored, many people can make the most of the vision they have.

Your eye care professional can tell the difference between normal changes in the aging eye and those caused by eye diseases.

How do I know if I have low vision?

You should have regular dilated eye exams to determine your eye health, but there are many signs that can signal vision loss. For example, even with your regular glasses, do you have difficulty:

  • Recognizing faces of friends and relatives?
  • Doing things that require you to see well up close, like reading, cooking, sewing, or fixing things around the house?
  • Picking out and matching the color of your clothes?
  • Doing things at work or home because lights seem dimmer than they used to?
  • Reading street and bus signs or the names of stores?

Vision changes like these could be early warning signs of eye disease. If you believe your vision has recently changed, you should see your eye care professional as soon as possible.

Talk with your eye care professional

Many people with low vision are taking charge. They want more information about devices and services that can help them keep their independence.

Meet MaryEarnest, Crystal, and Mike. What they have in common is that they're taking charge of their health. They have different types of vision loss from different eye diseases. Yet each of them asked about available resources that helped them to continue to live independently. Each needed specific visual devices, such as magnifying lenses for close-up viewing, and telescopic lenses for seeing in the distance, and training on how to use them.

If your eye care professional says, "Nothing more can be done for your vision," ask about vision rehabilitation. These programs offer a wide range of services, such as low vision evaluations and special training to use visual and adaptive devices. They also offer guidance for modifying your home as well as group support from others with low vision.

Investigate and learn

Remember that you are your best health advocate. Investigate and learn as much as you can, especially if you have been told that you may lose more vision. It is important that you ask questions about vision rehabilitation and get answers. Many resources are available to help you.

Write down questions to ask your doctor, or take a tape recorder with you.

Rehabilitation programs, devices, and technology can help you adapt to vision loss. They may help you keep doing many of the things you did before.
Courtesy of National Eye Institute.

Visit the National Eye Institute website to see how people with low vision learn new skills, use assistive devices and keep their independence.