Low vision rehabilitation is similar to physical therapy, except that low vision rehab is for the eyes and not for the rest of the body.
Very few people are completely blind – many more people have low vision, which is a visual impairment that surgery, medications, glasses, or contact lenses cannot correct. More than 39 million people in the United States have low vision or a condition that could lead to low vision, according to The Vision Council. Because about 10,000 “Baby Boomers” turn 65 every day, the number of people with low vision will likely increase over the next two decades.
Why Low Vision Rehabilitation is Necessary
Low vision can prevent someone from working, taking care of their families or themselves, and engaging in their favorite activities. In some cases, low vision can prevent someone from maintaining his or her independence.
Vision impairment can significantly lower one’s quality of life, as vision affects emotional well-being, social relationships, and convenience.
Research shows that people with low vision often have increased emotional difficulties and a higher risk of accidents compared with those with normal vision. Those who have undergone rehabilitation, however, experience significant improvements in the ability to function, use low vision devices more often, and enjoy improvement in reading and seeing faraway. They also report a greater satisfaction with their quality of life.
The purpose of low vision rehab is to help people develop strategies to make the most out of their remaining vision. Low vision rehabilitation can help people with visual impairments lead full and active lives. This type of rehab can also help restore the individual’s sense of self-worth, and help the patient to realize that undergoing low vision rehab and using low vision devices or techniques is a sign of tenacity and courage.
Provided by vision rehabilitation specialists, low vision rehab rebuilds and reinforces the visual foundation by identifying the individual’s goals, introducing him or her to assistive devices, and training. Evaluation and training typically occur before the introduction to low vision devices, which can occur well into the program. Evaluation and training helps low vision rehabilitation professionals make appropriate recommendations for low vision devices.
Vision rehabilitation specialists teach individuals with low vision how to manage everyday activities, such as writing, personal grooming, and using magnifiers for reading. Patients may learn how to adapt their home for easy navigation and safety, improve lighting conditions, and labeling food, clothing, and appliances. They may teach patients how to prepare meals, keep financial records, systematize shopping, and organize their purse or wallet for payment at the register.
About Low Vision Rehab
Every person with low vision is a unique individual and has different needs, so a good vision rehab program is personalized. The program might include education, for example, support groups, or individual counseling.
Low vision rehab starts with a comprehensive evaluation in which the vision rehabilitation specialist assesses the patient’s needs and identifies programs that may be helpful. During the evaluation, the specialist asks questions about the patient’s eye condition, overall health, and visual goals.
Next, the vision specialist performs a number of tests and techniques to assess visual function. Tests and techniques may include visual acuity tests, contrast sensitivity tests that determine the patient’s ability to discern subtle changes in vision, brightness acuity tests that measure the effect of glare, color vision tests, and ocular motility tests to identify impaired eye movement. A visual field test can help predict how the patient might function in everyday activities, and how he or she might respond to rehabilitation.
The vision specialist recommends a rehabilitation schedule, which usually consists of a one- or two-hour session twice a week for six weeks. Vocational rehab may be included if the client will continue to work.
During rehabilitation, vision rehabilitation specialists may introduce patients with a constricted visual field to scanning therapy and devices, including reverse telescopes and visual field awareness prisms. They may provide orientation training, mobility training and occupational therapy to those with severe vision loss. Some patients may receive information about animal guides.
Orientation and mobility training for use in actual public situations may be included for those with severe vision loss. Activities include learning how to cross streets safely, negotiate stairs and curbs, using public transportation, and familiarization with new environments. The use of an animal guide or Braille may be included.
Low vision rehabilitation can help to restore functional abilities, safety, and independence. For more information about low vision rehab, consult with a vision rehabilitation specialist.