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Marie-Louise Lapointe, MD, Assistant Professor ; Katya Molino, COMT ; N. Mariamme Ukena, BSc, BA, COMT, ROUB

While sophisticated technologies and specialized treatment are improving sight for hundreds of Eye Institute patients, a small segment of the population continues to experience the impact of reduced visual function. Adjusting to the gradual changes can be difficult, but low vision specialists help patients learn to cope with the degree of vision that remains.

In the Low Vision Clinic, the condition and needs of each patient are assessed to determine which types of visual aids will provide the greatest benefit. When normal glasses do not adequately correct near or distance vision, Dr. Lapointe helps patients master the use of other instruments such as handheld or stand magnifiers, high-plus spectacles or telescopes. Tools such as reading machines and text-enlarging computer software make it possible for many individuals to continue working and maintain a greater degree of independence.

For patients with severe conditions, losing the ability to read and write, or to travel about freely is traumatic. The Low Vision Clinic works closely with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) to ensure patients experiencing this setback receive the counseling they need, and are fully aware of the support services and equipment available to them.

What is a Low Vision Evaluation?

It is an evaluation for those who cannot see well enough with regular eye glasses. Low vision is not blindness. People with low vision still have useful vision that special visual devices can often improve. Whether your visual impairment is mild or severe, low vision means that your vision does not meet your needs.

What Causes Low Vision?

Low vision affects people of all ages. It is, however most common in the elderly. There are a variety of disorders that can affect the eye and the visual system causing low vision. These are: birth defects, injuries, certain diseases of the body and aging. The most common cause of low vision is macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is a disease of the retina or the inner layer of the eye that senses light and allows you to see. Macular degeneration causes damage to the central vision only. It does not affect side vision or peripheral vision.

Are there different types of Low Vision?

Yes. Reduced central or reading vision is the most common type of low vision. Other types of low vision are:

  • Reduced side vision (peripheral)
  • Loss of colour vision
  • Loss of the ability to adjust to light, contrast or glare.

Different types of low vision may require different types of aids.

What are Low Vision Aids?

Low vision aids are optical devices (described below) that improve vision.

Optical Low Vision Devices

These devices increase the size of the object you are looking at. These are not the same as standard eye glasses. We have available at the Low Vision Clinic at the Eye Institute:

  • hand-held magnifiers
  • stand magnifiers (COIL and Eschenbach)
  • various powers of high plus half glasses
  • Ocutech telescopes
  • handheld telescopes
  • reading and distance binoculars
  • closed-circuit television

Non-Optical Devices

This group of low vision devices includes playing cards with the big numbers, books on tape, talking watches, etc. The simplest non-optical technique is getting closer to what you want to see. Holding reading material very close to your eyes or sitting as close as one foot from the television will not cause eye damage.

There is not one device that restores normal vision in all circumstances. You may require a variety of devices for different visual purposes.

Why do I need two appointments for my Low Vision Evaluation?

After the low vision clinic receives the referral from your doctor, you will receive a call to schedule two appointments. On the first appointment you will see an ophthalmic technologist who specializes in low vision.

During this appointment the technologist will:

  • discuss your particular visual needs;
  • check your current prescription and magnifiers;
  • introduce a variety of available optical aids.

At the second appointment, you will see an ophthalmologist who will confirm and prescribe the optical aids you will need for improved vision.

Where can I get my prescription filled for my optical aid?

You can purchase the low vision aids at the Eye Institute Opticians, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and at other certified opticians.

If you need more information or want to make an appointment in our low vision clinic, you can call the Eye Institute at 613-737-8899 ext. 78716.