NIH News Release
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH
National Eye Institute

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE
Tuesday, October 19, 1999

Contact: NEI Information Office
Telephone: (301) 496-5248
Email: mjc@nei.nih.gov

Help Now Available for People with Low Vision
New Program Targets 1 in 20 Americans

For about 14 million Americans — one of every 20 — the inability to see well makes doing things difficult. They have trouble recognizing the faces of friends. Seeing the television and checking price tags becomes harder. Reading mail becomes an ordeal. Walking around the neighborhood presents a challenge.

What can people do about their low vision? What can they do to maintain their quality of life? How can they make the most of their remaining vision?

The National Eye Institute (NEI) — part of the Federal government's National Institutes of Health — is ready to answer these questions. The NEI's new Low Vision Education Program will help people understand what low vision is and explain what steps they can take to keep their independence despite vision loss.

"The impact of low vision on a person's quality of life can be devastating," NEI Director Dr. Carl Kupfer said at the program's launch at the National Press Club in Washington DC. "People with low vision have difficulty with everyday activities, such as reading the newspaper, recognizing familiar faces, or working at their jobs. Many people with low vision become socially isolated because they can no longer enjoy activities such as playing cards or going to a movie. The health of people with low vision may be compromised when they cannot recognize medications or read labels or nutritional information on food packages. Daily life becomes complicated when people are unable to travel alone or lose interest in cooking because the microwave panel or stove dials are hard to see.

"But people should not accept the statement that nothing can be done about their low vision," Dr. Kupfer said. "The fact is that they can do something about it. People with low vision can improve their quality of life through vision rehabilitation services to teach them how to use their remaining vision more effectively. Using a variety of visual and adaptive devices may bring back or help them keep their independence."

Dr. Kupfer said people with vision loss — particularly seniors — tend to accept their condition and not seek help. "Sadly, many older adults feel low vision is a part of aging that they have to accept," Dr. Kupfer said. "But help exists. There are services and devices that allow people who cannot see well to continue leading independent and full lives."

Low vision is broadly defined as a visual impairment, not corrected by standard glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery, that interferes with the ability to perform everyday activities. Most people develop low vision because of eye diseases, such as cataracts; glaucoma; diabetic retinopathy; or age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of severe visual impairment and blindness in Americans 60 years of age and older.

Low vision primarily affects the growing population of people over age 65 and other higher risk populations, including Hispanics and African Americans, who are likely to develop low vision at an earlier age. While lost vision usually cannot be restored, many people can learn to make the most of the vision that remains.

"We want to take the notion that low vision cannot be helped and replace it with messages of hope," said Rosemary Janiszewski, director of the NEI's National Eye Health Education Program, a partnership of close to 60 public and private organizations united behind this nationwide effort. "We know that people with low vision often feel they have no hope for improving their daily lives and may experience frustration and uncertainty. This can lead to profound lifestyle, physical, economic, and psychological stresses on them and their families.

"Our message is simple," Janiszewski said. "Vision rehabilitation can help bring back independence; home modifications, such as lighting and the use of contrasting colors, can make a difference in daily living; and most importantly, help is available."

The Low Vision Education Program will include a multimedia public service campaign and a traveling exhibit that will be displayed in shopping malls around the country. The program also will provide communities nationwide with materials and technical support to increase awareness of local low vision services and resources.

For a free booklet, What You Should Know About Low Vision, call 1-877-LOW VISION.

Logos and photos of low vision devices in downloadable, camera-ready format are available on the NEI website at http://www.nei.nih.gov or by calling 301-496-5248. A video news release and B-roll are also available.