Low Vision, What Does It Mean?

What is low vision?

Low vision is a visual impairment, not correctable by standard glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery, that interferes with a person's ability to perform everyday activities.

What are the warning signs of low vision?

Some warning signs include the following:
  • Trouble reading, cooking, or sewing.
  • Trouble seeing because the lights don't seem as bright as usual.
  • Trouble recognizing the faces of friends and relatives.
  • Trouble crossing the street or reading signs.

A person who is having these vision difficulties should immediately make an appointment with an eye care professional for an eye examination. If the person's vision cannot be treated by conventional methods, such as glasses, contact lenses, medication, or surgery, then he or she should ask the eye care professional for information about vision rehabilitation. These services may include eye examinations, a low vision evaluation, training on how to use visual and adaptive devices, support groups, and training on how to perform everyday activities in new ways.

What causes low vision?

Low vision can result from a variety of diseases, disorders, and injuries that affect the eye. Many people with low vision have age-related macular degeneration, cataract, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy. Age-related macular degeneration accounts for almost 45 percent of all cases of low vision.

Who is at higher risk for low vision?

People age 65 and older, as well as African Americans and Hispanics over age 45, are at higher risk. African Americans and Hispanics are at higher risk for low vision because they are at higher risk for developing diabetes and diabetic retinopathy, and African Americans are at a higher risk for developing glaucoma.

How many people have low vision?

Approximately 14 million Americans--about one out of every 20 people--have low vision. About 135 million people around the world have low vision.

[The Lighthouse. (1994). The Lighthouse National Survey on Vision Loss: The Experience, Attitudes, and Knowledge of Middle-Aged and Older Americans. New York: The Lighthouse, Inc., Louis Harris and Associates, Inc.]

Is the number of people with low vision expected to grow?

Yes. About one in eight Americans is now 65 or older. That number is expected to grow, while mortality rates are expected to drop. By 2030, the number of Americans 65 and over is projected to double.

How much does low vision cost the country?

More than $22 billion is spent annually on care and services for people who are blind or have visual impairments. These costs include treatment, education, loss of personal income, and associated costs, such as Social Security disability benefits.

[National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research. (1995). A Vision of Hope for Older Americans: Progress and Opportunities in Eye and Vision Research. An official report to the White House Conference on Aging.]

How does low vision affect people's lives?

People with low vision experience physical, economic, and psychological changes that diminish their quality of life. Low vision affects daily routines (walking, going outside, cooking), leisure activities (reading, sewing, traveling, sports), and the ability to perform job-related functions that can lead to a loss of income. These consequences often lead people with low vision to become confused, grief-stricken, fearful, anxious, and depressed. In addition, people with low vision who lose their depth perception are at greater risk of falling and injuring themselves.

Do people with low vision experience problems on the job?

One-third of all people with visual impairments who responded to a 1994 survey by The Lighthouse, a vision advocacy and social service organization, said that their vision problems created some difficulty in performing their jobs. Half of all respondents said that loss of income as a result of low vision was a somewhat serious or very serious problem.

[The Lighthouse. (1994). The Lighthouse National Survey on Vision Loss: The Experience, Attitudes, and Knowledge of Middle-Aged and Older Americans. New York: The Lighthouse, Inc., Louis Harris and Associates, Inc.]

Are people with low vision more prone to accident and injury?

Evidence suggests that the loss of stereoscopic vision and depth perception increases a person's chances of tripping, falling, or running into objects such as an open cabinet door, for example.

[Bachelder, J., and Harkins, D., Jr. (1995). Do occupational therapists have a primary role in low vision rehabilitation? American Journal of Occupational Therapy 49:927-930. Swagerty, D., Jr. (1995). The impact of age-related visual impairment on functional independence in the elderly. Kansas Medicine 96:24-26.]