Hi! I should be working doing psychology stuff. I’m not. Call me irresponsible. I promised you eccentric viewing. I would rather make good on that promise now.
“Eccentric” makes me think of some oddball, elderly relative who does strange things. (No comments from the peanut gallery, please!) That is option one in the dictionary. Option two is the technical, scientific one. Let us look at that.
What does eccentric mean?
Eccentric literally means out of center. It is derived from a Greek phrase. (As I said before, everything sounds much more intellectual in Latin or Greek!) Thus, I am not referring to the quirky way I see the world (definition 1), but instead to use my off-center retina to do some of my seeing (definition 2).
We each have a unique pattern of vision loss
Every one of us has our own unique pattern of vision loss. Every one of us has scotomata (singular is scotoma) in a pattern that is pretty much unique to herself.
My scotomata pattern
Scotoma? Those are blind spots. Again, scotoma is a Greek word. It means darkness. However, that does not mean you have large, black polka dots in your visual field. Some of us do. Many of us don’t. My scotomata are blurry, gray blobs. I can see a little bit “through” them. Just not that much.
The problem of using central vision with AMD
The problem with having age-related macular degeneration is you naturally want to plop your macula right “on” what you want to see. Since your macula is supposed to have the finest discrimination and best color vision of your entire retina, under normal conditions, that makes sense. Under the conditions of AMD, it makes no sense at all.
Eccentric viewing uses your peripheral retina
Eccentric viewing is recruiting an intact part of your peripheral retina to do at least part of the heavy lifting your macula normally does. This is not as easy as it sounds. Years of habit training fight against you, but it is possible.
Discovering where your peripheral retina is in intact
Everyone have an Amsler grid? If you don’t have a paper one either copy yours on your printer or print one from the web. Look at the center of the grid. Take a pen and fill in everywhere your scotomata are. That will tell you not only where your blind spots are but also give you some idea where you have intact, peripheral retina.
My eccentric viewing
My scotomata are above the midline. That means my “sweet spots” are below the midline. When I am trying to see if any cars are coming down the road, I focus what is left of my macula above the road. If there is a car coming, I will see it using my lower, peripheral retina. This is how I ski, navigate on my bike, read, and write. I always seem to be looking above what I am looking at.
Improving peripheral vision with time and practice
As I said, this is not easy, practice is required. It is also far from perfect. The crispness of vision and brightness of colors decrease the farther you get away from the macula. Using parts of your peripheral retina farther from your macula will make seeing more difficult. Try to get in as tight as possible. Also, don’t expect to read anywhere near as rapidly as you once did. Reading rates drop as you use peripheral retina areas farther from the macula.
That is the gist of eccentric viewing. Find a good, intact chunk of peripheral retina and keep practicing using it to focus on what you want to see. It gets easier.
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