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If you're among the estimated one of every 20 Americans with low vision, you might feel as if you're confined to your home, dependent on loved ones and unable to pursue your favorite hobbies.

But, it doesn't have to be that way, according to Cleveland Clinic's Men's Health Advisor.

Although low vision sight that cannot be corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses or surgery can have a significant effect on your life, help is available. Vision and rehabilitation specialists can help you make the most of your remaining vision, and an array of programs and optical devices can allow you to maintain some independence and keep doing many of the things you've always enjoyed.

"With a good attitude and the right person to help you learn to problem solve and to find some of the basic solutions that you need, there certainly is no reason why you can't continue to do the vast majority of things you used to do," said Patrick Baker, MHS, OTR/L, CLVT, CDRS, a Cleveland Clinic occupational therapist and low-vision rehabilitation specialist. "You don't have to depend on everybody."

What is Low Vision?

Low vision most commonly results from eye disorders such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma and cataracts, as well as diabetes (diabetic retinopathy). Eye or brain injuries also may cause low vision, as can retinitis pigmentosa, a rare inherited disorder that affects peripheral and night vision.

The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends regular eye exams every two years for adults ages 41 to 60, annually for those 61 and older and more frequently for people with diabetes or other eye-disease risk factors. Usually, eye disorders are detected during these exams; however, once they lose some vision, many people may be unsure where to turn next.

"Any time you're starting to lose functionality due to vision loss, it's time to seek a low-vision exam from a certified low-vision specialist," said Ann Laurenzi, O.D., a Cleveland Clinic optometrist.

Evaluating Low Vision

Unlike a standard eye exam, a low-vision exam concentrates more on how to function with your condition, and your specialist will show you how to make the most of your remaining eyesight. For example, a person with central vision loss from AMD must adapt and be trained on how to function better with his peripheral vision, Dr. Laurenzi said.

The process often requires a team of specialists, who will train you on the types of vision aids and strategies you'll need. "In a lot of cases, it's not just going out and getting equipment. It's finding out what you do, what you want to do, what's hard to do and what's the best tool that's going to help you resolve those issues," Baker said. He noted that occupational therapists specializing in low vision can help patients not only use vision aids, but also develop strategies to maintain a good quality of life.

Functioning with Low Vision

Vision aids are the key tools to help low-vision patients function. They may include magnifying devices, ranging from simple magnifiers and telescopic glasses, to complex closed-circuit TVs and battery-powered, head-mounted video magnifiers.

If you're a reader, many books are available on audiotape, and many newspapers are available online in large-print formats. Also, reading machines can voice typewritten text placed on their scanning surfaces.

Many insurance plans do not cover vision aids, so you may have to pay for them out of pocket.

Aside from vision aids, experimenting with lighting and contrast schemes can help you function with low vision around the home. For example, use a dark tablecloth with light-colored plates.

What You Can Do

Seek eye doctors and occupational therapists specializing in low vision. Visit the American Optometric Association's Web site to find a specialist near you. Work with your family members to develop an organizational plan for your household, and follow it closely.

Work with your therapist to find the ideal lighting setup that maximizes your vision, and experiment with contrast schemes, such as having dark furniture on a light-colored rug.

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