DEAR DOCTOR K: I have poor vision that is making it more and more difficult for me to live independently. Are there tools that can help with my day-to-day activities?
DEAR READER: Like you, some of my patients have poor vision, which limits their ability to perform activities such as reading a newspaper, using a computer, watching television, cooking a meal or crossing the street. For some, poor vision means poor central vision. For others, it is blurry vision, loss of peripheral vision or even double vision. But however your vision is affected, there are ways to cope:
— OPTICAL AIDS. The magnifying lens remains one of the most common tools to help compensate for poor vision. Most magnifying lenses are made to be held, but some can be incorporated into the lens of a pair of prescription glasses and used for reading or detail work.
Special lenses that work like miniature telescopes can be mounted on a pair of glasses and used for driving or watching a movie. And glasses with special filters may help with excessive glare or reduced contrast (less distinction between light and dark).
— COMPUTER AIDS. Software programs can make the text on a computer monitor larger or more legible by allowing you to change font size and background displays. Specialized text-to-speech conversion programs read text aloud, while speech-recognition software converts speech to text. Special keyboards, magnifiers for monitors and other devices are also available.
In the late 1990s, a patient of mine developed a condition that caused his vision to worsen. He was a writer, and he felt that his career would end when his eyesight failed. “How can I read? How can I even read what I write?” he asked me. A self-styled “old-fashioned” guy, he wrote on a typewriter.
Switching to a computer made a huge difference. He started writing on one, using a large font size. He found someone to scan books and documents, and then used the computer to enlarge the text of the scanned documents. As e-books became common a few years later, it became even easier to read everything he needed to. If his eyesight worsens further, text-to-speech conversion will help him read by listening. And voice-recognition technology will allow him to write by talking.
— OTHER AIDS. Electronic “talking” watches, alarm clocks and calculators let you rely on your hearing rather than your vision. Listening to audiobooks is another popular option.
A simple desk lamp with a metal shade is one of the easiest ways to improve vision if you use it properly. Position the lamp so that the light shines directly onto the materials in front of you, rather than over your shoulder or high above you.
Other inexpensive, low-tech vision aids include large-print versions of playing cards and bingo cards, and push-button telephone and cellphone pads. And, of course, many books and newspapers come in large-print versions.
Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.