Many times when I am reading an article about macular degeneration, there will be a statement about blindness or becoming blind. Although there can be severe vision loss in advanced stages of AMD, it does not cause the total blackout that we think of when a person is truly blind. The vision changes occur in a very tiny spot in the retina, called the macula. While the bad news is that this spot is critical for detailed and straight ahead vision, the good news is that there is still healthy portions of the retina that can utilized to maximize one’s usable vision.
The question then is how can one make the most of the healthy portion of the retina? The two most common ways to do it is through eccentric viewing and through different types of specialized low vision glasses.
Eccentric viewing is often done as a normal reaction when one can’t see what’s straight ahead. A person shifts their vision or their eyes to the side using their peripheral vision which has healthier rods and cones. However, the ideal way to maximize using one’s healthier peripheral vision is to receive training from a low vision specialist. The specialist starts by first helping the patient identify the area of the peripheral retina that is healthiest and allows one to see most clearly. This spot is called the Preferred Retinal Locus (PRL). A person may have to look slightly to the left, right, above or below an object, face or word to get the best focus. It requires training, practice and concentration to learn this new way of seeing.
Low Vision Glasses
Low vision glasses are different from regular glasses obtained from a general eye doctor. One must see a low vision specialist to be tested and fitted for them. Special lenses and prisms help to magnify images, provide better clarity and lessen distorted vision. Some are used for close up activities like reading while other glasses are used for distance vision, like watching TV. The magnification provided by low vision glasses reduces the size of the blank or blind spots.
Distance vision glasses use a miniature telescope mounted on the top of a pair of eyeglasses. The telescope magnifies images in the distance so that what is far away can be seen. The combined telescope with regular eyeglasses allows the wearer to switch back and forth from regular vision to binocular vision.
Magnifying reading glasses are different from regular reading glasses. These help to accommodate the blind spot(s) that is associated with advanced AMD. The blank spots in one’s vision and distortions appear smaller thanks to specialized optics.
At this time Medicare and many insurances do not pay for these low vision glasses. They can cost from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. However the low vision specialist can test and simulate how one would see with the special lenses and prisms to see if there is a visual benefit to the wearer.
If you are finding that your vision has changed in such a way that your normal prescription glasses or way of seeing is not meeting your needs, see if their is a low vision center near you by visiting How To Find A Low Vision Specialist.
Leslie Degner, RN, BSN has 25 years of nursing experience and her goal is to educate and raise awareness of macular degeneration. She aims to provide resources surrounding what causes AMD, prevents it and available treatments that can bring hope to those who have been diagnosed. She writes for and manages a website on the topic, here: www.webrn-maculardegeneration.com