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iPads May Help Those With 'Low Vision' Read Better

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Contrast Counts

The backlight boosts contrast sensitivity or the ability to see an object stand out from its background. Many people with low vision lose this ability, says researcher Daniel Roth, MD. He is an associate clinical professor at Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine in New Brunswick, N.J.

"The findings apply to anyone with compromised reading vision who has difficulty seeing letters or words," he says. "The magnified font and backlight allows them to improve their reading ability and comfort."

Aging baby boomers with vision issues are likely pretty tech-savvy, and these tablets are very user-friendly, he says. Many times, these people just give up on reading, but they don't have to.

"Choose a tablet that has a backlight, set the brightness to the maximum, and read at a comfortable level of magnification," Roth says.

iPads can benefit most everyone with low vision, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic eye disease, says Mark Fromer, MD, an ophthalmologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "These devices create contrast between the letters and the background so they can read more easily -- without magnifiers."

"The 18-point font size and the contrast allow them to pick up the shape of the letters much easier than standard print," Fromer says.

They also beat the alternatives, he says. "Magnifiers and lighting devices can be large and cumbersome."

Janet Sunness, MD, an ophthalmologist in Baltimore, agrees. She says that an iPad 2 is also a lot less expensive than some low-vision aids, which can run as high as $3,000 and are generally not covered by insurance. iPad 2s cost around $400.

"This is a fabulous thing for low-vision patients," she says. Her advice is to go to a store and take a tablet for a test drive and see how you like it.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary, as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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