Coping with Low Vision

The American Academy of Ophthalmology defines low vision as what results “if ordinary eyeglasses, contact lenses, or intraocular lens implants don’t give you clear vision.”  But that’s a woefully inadequate way of describing one of the greatest challenges-if even that word isn’t too simplistic-to the quality of life.

Low vision means that the simplest, most mundane things you do- reading the newspaper, making coffee, or finding the right bills to pay for a hamburger at a restaurant-become ordeals.  It means that because you can’t see well, life gets unnecessarily complicated and ridiculously frustrating.

It may be some comfort to know that you are not alone.  At least twenty million people over age fort have some serious visual impairment.  Ninety percent of these people have some vision, often called ‘residual vision’.  Most of then have what is termed ‘low vision’, which can include decreased side vision (peripheral vision), loss of color vision, or loss of the ability to adjust light, contrast, or glare.  Again, low vision is defined in the most general terms as the absence of sharp sight even when wearing ordinary glasses, contact lenses, or intraocular lenses.


Loss of vision has a profound effect on the individual, family members, and the community.  Next to cancer, older people fear vision loss most.  Many people associate low vision with being blind, and mane people feel that there is a stigma to being blind.  This stigma may be a difficult issue to work through, and it may seem impossible when someone is just beginning the rehabilitation process.

As with any loss, the person with vision loss can be expected to express normal emotions of denial and disbelief, anger, frustration, depression, and fear.  If the vision loss is sudden accompanied by nausea and vomiting, head pain and hazy vision, contact an ophthalmologist experienced in performing trabeculectomies and trabeculoplasties. The person with vision loss may also experience a loss of mobility, which may make him or her withdraw from social activities and become isolated.  And when financial and other personal matters must be handled by others, the resulting loss of autonomy and privacy can be devastating to the person who is used to doing these things for himself or herself.

An overall loss of independence is often a catalyst for reduced self-esteem, productivity, and motivation.  Although the period for passing through the emotions of loss varies in length, almost everyone eventually moves from saying “I won’t” through believing “I can’t” to learning “I can.”   A successful adjustment and rehabilitation of the person experiencing new sight loss will I love family, friends, and significant others.  The key to coping with this loss is to accept the reality of the new situation.  Once this has happened, the person can begin seeking solutions to life’s new challenges.  During this critical period, family and friends need to be encouraging and find ways to help they person become more independent.