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Low vision therapy makes life more navigable

The three leading causes of irreversible vision loss in adults in the United States are macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.

The three leading causes of irreversible vision loss in adults in the United States are macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.

The three leading causes of irreversible vision loss in adults in the United States are macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.

Macular degeneration reduces your central visual field and can make reading and close work difficult. Glaucoma reduces peripheral or side vision, causing increased risk of falling.

Diabetic retinopathy causes scattered, spotty areas of vision loss. People with diabetic retinopathy may have problems seeing contrasts and have poor color discrimination and night vision. They may also experience double vision or fluctuations in vision resulting from changes in blood glucose levels.

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Lawrence Memorial Hospital

You may know someone with low vision

Mary B. was diagnosed with macular degeneration, and now finds that not only is she unable to engage in her favorite hobbies, embroidery and crochet, but is now struggling to cut up foods for meal preparation and to turn on the stove burners correctly. This has resulted in a few minor burns, and she has experienced a couple of falls in the dimly lit areas of her home.

Harold E. has diabetes, and has been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy. He has found it increasingly difficult to independently read his bank statement and write checks due to impaired vision. He finds it very difficult to read medication and food labels. He is frustrated that he cannot manage these activities for himself.

Both of these people have been very independent and don’t wish to ask family members to help them perform tasks they had been accustomed to doing with ease. Mary and Harold are both challenged in their daily routine due to reduced or low vision. People with low vision find it difficult to solve these basic problems because their vision limits their ability to find answers on their own.

What is low vision?

Low vision is a visual impairment that cannot be corrected by medical or surgical intervention and is severe enough to interfere with the performance of daily living tasks. If you have low vision, you will have some usable vision. This is different from blindness, which is defined as no light perception, leaving the person without usable vision for daily activities.

Gradual loss of independence with low vision

Tasks such as meal preparation, money management, self-care, shopping, laundry and negotiating public spaces are often significantly impaired with low vision. Daily routines that were once done easily and quickly can become challenging, frustrating and time consuming. Applying toothpaste, seasoning foods, setting dials on appliances, shopping, and reading labels and recipes are commonly impaired by vision loss.

Low vision therapy can increase independence

So, what can be done to regain independence in daily living and to rediscover ways to enjoy lifelong leisure skills? Can simple modifications to a home environment improve safety and make meal preparation and household tasks easy again? How can you be able to enjoy reading again?

A new program at LMH Therapy Services has been designed to provide low vision rehabilitation for the Lawrence community. An occupational therapist, in collaboration with your doctor, will evaluate problems related to your vision and create a personalized treatment plan.

Challenges and needs

Therapy offers a way to tackle some of the everyday problems that are slowing you down. An occupational therapist will:

  1. Assess your challenges and needs: Do you have trouble reading fine print? Do you have problems with using a computer due to your vision?
  2. Formulate goals and strategies to address each problem: Therapy focuses on how you can maximize your remaining vision. You may need to use optical devices like a magnifying glass, change the lighting in your kitchen or change the contrast color of your work surface.
  3. Recommend simple home modifications: The therapist will make recommendations for simple changes at home, which may include reducing the glare of overhead lighting or labeling hard-to-read controls on the stove. Reading skills also will be assessed by the occupational therapist and intervention provided to improve ease in reading and writing.

A doctor’s prescription for occupational therapy must be obtained prior to starting low vision therapy. You can discuss a therapy order with your optometrist, ophthalmologist, neurologist or your primary care doctor.

If you have questions or would like more information about low vision therapy, call LMH Therapy Services at 785-505-2712.

— Jocelyn Rietcheck is an occupational therapist at LMH Therapy Services. She specializes in low vision therapy and has been a local practicing OT for more than 30 years. She is a graduate of the University of Kansas Occupational Therapy Program. Lawrence Memorial Hospital is a major sponsor of WellCommons.

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