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What is Vision Rehabilitation?

Vision loss from macular degeneration can vary: in some people, it can progress so slowly that they never lose much of their vision, while in others, visual impairment can happen quite rapidly. Some people might experience vision loss in one eye; others have it in both eyes. Macular degeneration does not cause complete blindness, but it can lead to loss of central vision, which can significantly impact one’s life.

Progressive symptoms

As the condition progresses, people often report blurriness in the center of their vision. This blurry spot gets progressively bigger, or for some people, blank spots might start to appear.1 As vision loss progresses, you might need to make certain adaptations to accommodate your new visual field.

What is vision rehabilitation?

Vision rehabilitation can help you learn about new ways of doing things with varying visual abilities. According to the American Optometric Association, vision rehabilitation is “the process of treatment and education that helps individuals who are visually disabled attain maximum function, a sense of well-being, a personally satisfying level of independence, and optimum quality of life.”2 In essence, it helps individuals adapt to their new level of vision and help them maintain their existing lifestyle and quality of life.

Components of vision rehabilitation

It is multidisciplinary and often involves visual strategies, occupational therapy, mobility training, and learning how to use visual aids.3 Vision rehabilitation starts with your eye doctor and expands to a larger team of therapists and doctors.

What does vision rehabilitation consist of?

Vision rehabilitation can look different for each person, depending on their needs. However, there are overarching concepts or areas that vision rehabilitation addresses.

Resources and support

Eye doctors can provide you with education about macular degeneration and what to expect as the condition progresses, give you information about visual aids that are available, and can also refer you to occupational therapists who specialize in clients with low vision. They might also be able to point you in the right direction for community resources, support groups, and reliable online sources of information.

Activities of daily living (ADLs)

Activities of daily living, or ADLs, can consist of things like personal care, cooking, cleaning, getting dressed, and managing finances. An occupational therapist or certified low-vision specialist can show you ways to adapt these behaviors to changing visual abilities, thus preserving your independence and providing you with autonomy.

Examples

It can be something as simple as organizing your closet and labeling clothes so you can get dressed more easily, or it can be more complicated, like organizing the household and providing instruction about lighting and contrasts to minimize any possible mobility issues around the house and facilitate ease of movement.

Assistive devices and technology

If you need assistive devices, an occupational therapist can help you procure things like clocks and phones with larger numbers on them, various kinds of magnifiers, and closed-circuit television. She can help you with voice-to-text computer programs or other assistive-computer technology that enable you to use your computer more easily. Working with canes, retinal implants, and therapy animals are also things that a vision rehabilitation specialist can help you with.

Benefits of vision rehabilitation

Aside from the practical benefits of vision rehabilitation regarding independence and autonomy, it can also help to reduce depression and reduce the risk of falls and fractures.3 Providing you with the education, skills, and problem-solving tools for living with vision loss from macular degeneration has wide-ranging effects on your physical and emotional well-being.

What can you do?

If you’ve been diagnosed with macular degeneration, talk with your eye doctor about vision rehabilitation and what that might look like for you, either now or when the time comes. Think about the issues that concern you about vision loss, and what you’d like to get assistance with; these are things that can be addressed in your vision rehabilitation. You can work with your team to create a rehabilitation plan tailored to your needs that will enrich your life and enable you to be as independent as possible.

Written by Jaime R. Herndon | Reviewed September 2019
  1. National Institutes of Health: National Eye Institute. Facts About Age-Related Macular Degeneration. 2015. https://nei.nih.gov/health/maculardegen/armd_facts. Accessed November 14, 2018.
  2. American Optometric Association. Definition of Vision Rehabilitation. 2004. https://www.aoa.org/optometrists/tools-and-resources/vision-rehabilitation/education-and-resources/definition-of-vision-rehabilitation. Accessed November 14, 2018.
  3. Meyniel C, Bodaghi B, Robert P-Y. Revisiting vision rehabilitation. Front Syst Neurosci. 2017; 11: 82. Doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2017.00082. Accessed November 14, 2018.