As a volunteer at a visual rehabilitation center in Boston,
Elaine knows that people with limited vision don't have to lead limited lives.
Her life certainly hasn't been limited, despite the fact that she has
severe loss of vision in both eyes -- one from a retinal detachment, and the
other from macular degeneration.
Visual rehabilitation services and low-vision aids don't have
the high-tech flash of laser eye surgery, and they can't offer hope of a cure
for what ails a failing eye, but "they can do a great deal -- they did for
me, and they do for many people. A lot of them are elderly, as I am, and it
makes such a difference in their lives to realize that there's something else
to do besides just sit," she says.
When it comes to aging, Bebe Shaw didn't hit the genetic lottery. Her mother died from congestive heart failure, her father of a heart condition. The younger of her two brothers had a heart attack at age 52, and her younger sister is on the verge of congestive heart failure. Shaw, 69, has high cholesterol -- a serious risk factor for heart disease.
With such a checkered health history, she's not taking any chances. "I am an advocate of exercise and diet," says Shaw, who works as a paralegal in Ocala,...
The National Eye Institute defines low vision as "a visual
impairment, not correctable by standard glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or
surgery, that interferes with activities of daily life."
Common causes of low vision include diabetic retinopathy, a
common eye disease in people with advanced diabetes; glaucoma, where an
increase in eye pressure causes damage to the nerves of the eye; and
age-related macular degeneration, where the retina, the layer in the back of
the eye that processes light, begins to deteriorate. According to the NEI,
about 14 million Americans have low vision affecting their ability to cook,
read, drive, and socialize. People at higher risk for loss of vision include
blacks and Hispanics age 45 and older, and members of other ethnic groups over
Learning to Cope
Severe visual loss, whether sudden or gradual, can be
devastating for many people, because it implies helplessness and a loss of
"I refer many patients to therapists because of their need
to cope more effectively with what they have and with trying to plan for the
future," says Andrea Heinlein, MSW, a social worker at Boston's
Massachusetts Eye and Ear Institute who helps patients with low vision find
special services and resources that can help them function to their