A low vision exam is usually set up through referral, either by a regular optometrist or an eye specialist. The specialist may practice in the same network or in a separate location.

My low vision exam was coordinated by Blindness and Visual Services in my city so it took some time to get the paperwork done in order for me to meet with my retinal specialist, who referred me to The Sight Center of Northwest PA to have my low vision exam.

I looked forward to my appointment. This would be a practical, hands-on problem-solving visit to enable me to maximize my remaining vision. When I go to a retinal specialist, I learn about the changes affecting my eyes in relation to my specific retinal condition–Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP for short). I hear jargon I don’t completely understand. So, I must be alert to ask questions. That evaluation primarily focuses on the rate of progression of my disease. Subsequently, it feels scarier.

Not so with the low vision specialist. The purpose of a low vision exam is to:

  • pinpoint vision strengths and weaknesses
  • find adaptive equipment to assist the patient in maximizing vision for his or her particular problems
  • identify and overcome emotional barriers.

The Sight Center, as it’s called, offers a variety of affordable and even free services to the greater Erie community in addition to the low vision specialist – ranging from  an optometrist on board to prescribe glasses to transportation for doctor’s appointments to a vision support group. They have funding options for low income residents of the city as well.

I love the warmth and friendliness in the center.

When my specialist met withe me, she directed me to her office with a series of instructions. “Walk straight ahead, about five feet. Now turn right in this hallway. Okay? A quick left. There is a chair against the back wall. Find it? Okay, have a seat.”

I was thrilled! Even the assistants to the retinal specialist did not guide me so ably.

I liked the doctor right away. She was personable and professional at the same time.

I quickly learned the benefits of having a low vision exam.

Layman’s Terms

The doctor spoke of my condition and how my eyes worked in ways I could understand. No jargon. No confusing explanations. While I dislike looking at the eye chart and finding so much that I can’t see, it went smoothly. She was encouraged with  the results of my right eye. “Your right eye is doing a little better than it was ten months ago. That means it’s stable for the moment. Isn’t that great?”

After years of rapid deterioration, I sure thought it was!

For my left noticeably weaker eye, she tried a number of different tests to coax it to see even one letter. Ultimately, even when I tried to view the letters on a portable chart only a few feet in front of me, I couldn’t see a single one. In fact, I didn’t even know she had placed the board there. We finally concluded that  I had only light perception in my left eye.

I did have an appointment with a specialist at the end of January to see if any surgery could be done to remove the residual of a cataract that wasn’t completely removed in surgery more than a decade earlier. I still held on to hope for a second surgery.

Again, I was reassured.  The focus remained on the positive and hands-on solutions, what we could do to make the most of the vision I had now. Also, her use of “we” made me feel I wasn’t in it alone.

Thorough Exam

My exam took about two hours. My doctor asked thoughtful questions throughout the various examinations. She confirmed that my visual field was very restricted. I was glad she didn’t need to dilate my eyes and none of the tests hurt.

At one point, she talked about scanning. When a person with low vision scans, he or she looks to the right, to the left, up and down in quick succession frequently to help identify locations or objects. “Islands of sight” exist in one’s field of vision. When scanning, these islands can usually capture more than a person with limited sight can see when he or she is looking in only one direction.

“At your stage of loss, scanning still helps. It’s simple and is a technique that requires only practice.”

I had learned  much earlier how to do this but sometimes forgot to employ it.

She also discussed a yellow tinted lens that might help with the glare of light so I see objects with more clarity. Yes! My previous low vision specialist provided me with yellow-tinted lenses. I had forgotten I even had them.

Nicole, the Occupational Therapist,  joined us. She focused on technical solutions. The three of us were experimenting with with  magnifying lenses of varying strengths when the optometrist popped in to greet me and delivered some paperwork regarding my eye history to the doctor. I knew and liked her. Everyone  at the Sight Center called me by name and spoke cheerfully. No somber voices. I liked that we worked together to find solutions to help me.

The optometrist left and the three of us narrowed it down to two different magnifying glasses. One didn’t require lifting. It fit over the object to be read. I thought this lens would be convenient to see recipes. I liked that I wouldn’t have to pick it up with floury or butter-covered hands.

“I’m so messy in the kitchen! My magnifying glasses are covered with fingerprints, gravy, whatever I am working with! Terrible to see from afterwards!” 

This made everyone laugh. I guess we’re all a bit messy in the kitchen.  However, because I go out frequently, I finally chose a hand-held lit magnifying glass I could carry in my purse and use in restaurants to better read the menu. It didn’t look that expensive. But with a magnifying strength x3, it was deceptively powerful and costly.  With that decision made, I left my specialist’s office and followed Nicole down the elevator to her own office. She also used directional instructions, which made me feel confident and independent.

A Variety of Technical Magnifiers

In Nicole’s office, we explored more new and cool gadgets.

One was “mid-distance television glasses.” I had told Nicole that I couldn’t see the preacher anymore at church. He was just a big blur. Actually, I couldn’t see many of the people at my speaking engagements. Nicole felt these glassed could help and they easily fit over my regular glasses. I noticed if something or someone was too close, part of the view became blurry. But at a distance, things became clearer due to the magnification over the prescription I already had in my glasses.

We also looked through a similar set of glasses that magnified close-up vision. We tested them out over the print on soup cans, boxes of spaghetti, etc. It was fun!

“Nicole, will these glasses help me distinguish people better in public?” I asked. “I’m not especially forthcoming when I don’t recognize people out. I’m still in the pretend mode when I can’t figure out who they are.”

She wasn’t sure how much that would help me.

“I just hate it,” I said, “It’s somehow so embarrassing. Of course, I could say, ‘Who are you?’ and be done with it.”

“That’s another solution.” She smiled. “Are you ready for that?”

“No, most of time I’m not,” I admitted.

“Okay, so that’s a big emotional barrier. Let’s see what else we can do.”

When our time neared an end, I felt so empowered. I had practical solutions at my fingertips, had been able to voice my concerns in a relaxed manner, had gained new understanding of why my eyes worked as they did, knew the worst about my left eye and approaching it in clear easy-to-understand terms caused me to be matter-of-fact about this new loss. Everyone had been patient with me.

Some individuals may prefer to work one-on-one with a specific low vision specialist. My last specialist eight years earlier was a lovable one-man-show who taught me a lot . But the team approach also worked for me.

My vision mattered.

Whatever kind of approach, the most important aspect of visiting a low vision specialist is to be frank with your concerns and challenges.

Have you gone to a low vision specialist? What was your experience like? Can you add additional benefits to seeing one?

You have just read “3 Benefits to a Low Vision Exam,” by Amy L. Bovaird. Copyright December 11, 2015.  Please take a moment to comment, like or share this post if you found value. Thanks!  

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