Many things can cause low vision, including macular degeneration and glaucoma. When you can't see as well, daily life may feel more challenging. But you can do some things to stay independent and keep doing the activities you enjoy.
You can start by making some changes to your home, like adding extra lighting. You can also use devices that can help when you have low vision, such as special eyeglasses and large-print books.
You could also ask others for help. Your doctor can help you find safe ways to stay active. Low-vision specialists can help you learn ways to manage daily life. Family and friends might help you run errands and keep a healthy social life.
How can you adapt to poor eyesight?
Making changes at home
Some simple changes can help you make the most of your remaining vision and allow you to live as independently as possible. Here are some things you can do at home.
- Position lighting so it helps you.
- Aim your lighting at what you want to see. Aim it away from your eyes.
- Add table and floor lamps in areas where extra lighting is often needed.
- Use window coverings that let you adjust the level of natural lighting.
- Make sure that potentially dangerous areas, such as entries and stairways, are well lit.
- Place light and dark objects against each other.
Contrast helps your eyes to distinguish objects and their surroundings based on differences in brightness or color, rather than shape or location. If you have low vision, you may need more light to be able to distinguish objects with similar brightness or color (low contrast).
- Place light objects against a dark background or dark objects against a light background. For example, if you have white or light-colored walls, use dark switch plates for your light switches. Or use lighted switches that glow softly. They are easier to see.
- You can also use paint in a contrasting color to mark electrical outlets, oven dials, thermostats, and other items. This will make the items easier to find and use.
- Paint door frames in a contrasting color. For example, if the door is light, paint the frame with a dark color. Use dark doorknobs on light-colored doors.
- In your bathroom, use contrasting color for items such as cups, soap dishes, and even the soap.
- Label things clearly.
- Attach a safety pin to the labels of clothes that have similar colors.
- Use high contrast when making labels, signs, and other markings.
- Use bold black lettering on a white background. Post signs at eye level.
- Use colored, high-contrast labels to "color code" spices, foods, and other items.
- Label any medicines that you take so that they are easily and clearly identified.
- Wrap rubber bands around each of your medicine bottles. Use a different number of bands for each medicine, and keep track of the number of bands on each medicine type.
- Use colored, high-contrast labels.
- Label temperature settings.
- On your stove and oven controls, mark the positions of the temperature settings you use most often, as well as the "on" and "off" positions.
- In the kitchen and bathroom, mark the settings for the faucets that provide the right water temperature.
- Mark the water level you want with a strip of waterproof tape or waterproof marker. This can prevent overfilling a sink or bathtub.
- Look for appliances with extra-large, high-contrast markings and indicators.
- Mark the areas around stairways and ramps with paint or tape. It's best to use a high-contrast color such as dark tape on light carpeting.
- Recognize and fix anything that might cause falls.
- Replace or remove any worn carpeting or floor coverings. If you use throw rugs or area rugs, tape them down or remove them.
- Avoid smooth floor coverings, and don't wax kitchen and bathroom floors. Use nonskid, nonglare cleaners on smooth floors.
- Remove electrical cords from areas where you need to walk. If this isn't possible, tape them down so you won't trip over them.
- Arrange your furniture so it doesn't stick out into areas where you need to walk. Keep chairs pushed in under tables and desks when not in use. Keep desk, cabinet, and bureau drawers closed.
- Keep doors either fully opened or fully closed, but not halfway. If you have doors that stick out into a room or hallway, keep them closed.
- Make sure the handrails on stairways and ramps extend beyond the top and bottom steps. People often stumble when they miss a step at the top or bottom of an incline. Think about installing handrails in other potentially hazardous areas.
Learning to use low-vision aids and adaptive technologies may help you make the best use of your remaining vision.
Low-vision aids are special lenses or electronic systems that make images appear larger, such as:
- Magnifying lenses.
These may range from simple handheld lenses for reading to special eyeglasses or magnifiers much like the lenses that jewelers use.
- Some lenses have a built-in light so you can see things better.
- Some devices are mounted on stands so your hands are free.
- Small handheld telescopes or lenses that clip onto your eyeglasses can help with distance vision.
- Video enlargement systems.
These are electronic systems that can be used to send an enlarged image of print, pictures, or other items onto a screen where it's easier for you to see. Examples include a closed-circuit television camera (CCTV) or video camera. These systems can also sometimes adjust brightness and contrast to make the enlarged image easier to see. Some video systems have both the camera and screens built into a head-mounted device that looks like a pair of large goggles. You can move around while you use them.
- Computer display and enlargement systems.
Large screens and software that enlarge print, pictures, and other visual information are available. Computers also allow you to alter brightness, contrast, color, and other parts of the display. This can make it easier to see what's on the screen. Computers are sometimes used with video enlargement systems.
Adaptive technology is used in devices or products that may not help you see better but can make life easier and safer. Many are designed to help you perform common tasks that may be harder when you have impaired vision. Examples include:
- Large-print items.
Books, newspapers, magazines, medicine labels, bank checks, and playing cards are often available in large print. Many people with low vision also use audio versions of books and other printed materials.
- Special papers and writing aids.
These may be something as simple as paper with extra-bold lines that help you write information on checks in the proper spaces.
- Adaptive appliances.
These are common household items that have been adapted for use by people with low vision. Examples are clocks and watches with electronic voices that announce the time. Or you can find clocks, telephones, and home appliances with extra-large buttons and numerals that are easier to see.
- Speech software for computer systems.
Special software allows computers to recognize spoken commands or to convert dictated speech into text. Speech synthesis software allows computers to speak text and read documents.
- Optical character recognition (OCR) software.
OCR systems allow you to scan documents and convert them into computer text. Then the text can be enlarged for display or read aloud by a speech synthesis program.
Some of these measures are easy to build into your life. Others require big changes in the way that you do things at home, at work, or elsewhere. Some measures, such as computer programs or electronic systems, can cost a lot. Or they may take time to learn to use properly. You will need to decide which ones will work best for you. If you are legally blind, you may be able to get help through your state's Commission for the Blind.
Using diabetes aids
If your low vision is caused by diabetes, aids that may help include:
- Needle guides and other devices.
- They can help you locate and stick the needle through the rubber stopper on your insulin bottle and help you prepare insulin injections.
- There are also bottle-holding devices that help you hold the bottle and syringe to safely withdraw insulin.
- Other needle aids are available.
- Adaptive blood sugar meters.
A large-print meter can help you see your blood sugar result clearly. There are also some "talking" meters.
- Adaptive food scales.
If you need to weigh your food, there are large-print or talking food scales.
- Computerized blood sugar records.
Your home blood sugar meter may be able to enter results directly into a computer. You can print these in large print.
- Voice recorder for record keeping.
You can speak your daily blood sugar results and other information directly into a voice recorder.
It's important to stay active for your health. But when you can't see so well, you may have some safety concerns. Here are a few ideas to help you.
- Ask your doctor what physical activities are safe for you to do.
For example, If you bend, lift things, or move fast, it may affect your health and vision.
- Take steps to make activities safe.
After you know whether or not you need to avoid any activities, find some things that you like to do. Then make them as safe as you can. For example:
- Ask a friend to read you the instructions for a new exercise and to check your technique. Your friend can also check your technique when you first start something new.
- Walk with someone who can help look for things that may be a danger.
- If you swim laps, use a pool that has ropes between the lanes.
Having low vision can lead to losing your ability to drive. It's hard to give up the convenience of going where you want whenever you want. But you don't have to be homebound. You have options for getting around safely.
- Ask your family and friends for help.
If asking for help is hard for you, you could offer to pay for their time or gas to take you on errands.
- Use public transportation.
Check with your local transit company for schedules. Also see if your area has paratransit services that can take you door-to-door where you need to go.
- Think about using taxis.
Or try smartphone services, such as Uber or Lyft. It may sound expensive. But don't forget that it also costs a lot to own a car, buy gas, and pay for insurance and maintenance.
- Look for low-cost transportation.
Ask your eye doctor or counselor about organizations in your community that offer low-cost alternative transportation.
- Think about using a white cane.
It can help you feel safer as you move around. And a cane can let people know that you may have trouble seeing.
Look for low-vision specialists and groups and agencies that offer counseling, training, and other special services related to vision loss. They can give you practical advice and training on managing your household and other activities of daily life. These specialists can also help you find ways to cope with low vision in the workplace. Specialists may include:
- Rehabilitation counselors and teachers. They can address specific needs.
- Occupational therapists.
- Orientation and mobility specialists.
- Low-vision specialists.
- Experts in technology adapted for people with low vision.
- Professional counselors. They can offer guidance and support in dealing with the emotional and psychological effects of living with low vision.
Many resources are available. They can help you make the best use of the vision you do have and keep your quality of life. Your family and friends can also help you.
Current as of: October 12, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Christopher J. Rudnisky MD, MPH, FRCSC - Ophthalmology