Five easy lighting tips for people with vision loss

John Boyer, O.D. shows a vision aid with built-in light to a patient who has limited vision.
John Boyer, O.D. shows a vision aid with a built-in light to a patient who has limited vision

If you’re one of the millions of seniors with age-related macular degeneration, reading a newspaper or book may be a frustrating experience.  A common eye disease that affects older people, age-related macular degeneration - or AMD- gradually impairs central vision and can hamper your ability to see fine details, such as newsprint, the instructions on a prescription bottle or the stitches in your needlework project.

While your first instinct may be to shop for a magnifier, using the right  kind of lighting for close-up tasks can make all the difference in the world,  says John Boyer, O.D., clinical director of OHSU Casey Eye Institute’s Vision Rehabilitation Center. One of the troubling symptoms of AMD is a decline in contrast sensitivity, which can make reading particularly challenging. “Patients may think a magnifier can make up for the loss, but what you really may need is better illumination. Contrast improves dramatically with increased lighting positioned close to the reading material,” he explains.

Patients visiting the rehabilitation center at Casey often are pleasantly surprised to find how much easier it is to make out letters on the eye chart or a read a brochure when a light is aimed directly on the reading material, says Dr. Boyer. “The key is to bring a light to you, not the task to the light,” he says.

Five vision loss tips

1. For best reading, use lights that can be placed 4 to 7 inches from the print. This distance is needed whether or not you are reading with special glasses or a magnifier.

2. Try different kinds of light bulbs. Options are compact fluorescent, halogen or LEDs.  (Traditional incandescent bulbs are being phased out and may no longer be available at your local store).  Whichever type of light you use, be sure to place the bulb closer to the page than you are.

3. If seated at a table or desk, place a lamp right next to your reading. Sitting in your living room chair or bed? You will need a lamp with a long arm that will reach far enough so that the light bulb can be placed in front of your shoulder, not over your shoulder.

4. Before heading out to your favorite restaurant, tuck a small LED light into your pocket or handbag. While the darker mood lighting may be romantic, it may make viewing the menu nearly impossible.

5. Browse your local home improvement store and on-line to find a variety of lighting options.  Also consider retail outlets that specialize in office products or art and craft supplies.

Learn more about low vision and vision rehabilitation at OHSU Casey Eye Institute

Learn more about age-related macular degeneration and the services of the Macular Degeneration Center at OHSU Casey Eye Institute