Low vision aids can help people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) see better. AMD is an eye condition that causes blurry vision and blind spots.
There are two types of AMD: wet AMD and dry AMD. Wet AMD occurs when blood vessels beneath the retina leak blood and other fluids, causing macular scarring and loss of central vision.
Wet AMD doesn’t affect side vision, so it typically doesn’t cause complete blindness. Still, this condition can make it difficult to see distant objects, recognize faces, and read.
As the condition progresses, low vision aids and other assistive devices can improve visual performance.
But although these devices are useful and help people with vision problems maintain their independence, health insurance plans don’t typically cover the cost of low vision aids.
Here’s a look at different types of low vision aids and assistive devices, as well as tips for managing costs.
Magnifying devices improve vision by increasing the size of near and distant objects. They provide visual support, making it easier to complete daily tasks such as reading and writing.
These devices vary and include:
- hand-held magnifiers (pocket slide, bar magnifiers)
- around-the-neck magnifiers
- desktop magnifiers
- stand magnifiers
- video magnifiers (CCTV)
Bar magnifiers and pocket slides are hand-held and involve moving the magnifier lens over printed words. Stand and desktop magnifiers (which can rest on the floor or on a desk) are useful when a person has shaky hands. Around-the-neck magnifiers, on the other hand, keep the hands free.
These magnifiers come in different powers of strength, and some of them have built-in lighting. They’re relatively inexpensive, costing $20 or less for an around-the-neck and hand-held magnifier and between $50 and $100 for stand and desktop magnifiers.
Video magnifiers, or closed-circuit televisions (CCTV), can be used at home, work, or school. This device uses a stand-mounted video camera and monitor and offers a range of magnifications. The camera displays the image of a book, magazine, or other items on an attached monitor, such as a TV or computer.
These types of magnifiers are especially useful for work and school assignments. There’s an option to adjust the contrast on monitors, and some video magnifiers can read text aloud. The price of CCTV magnifiers ranges from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
These types of magnification devices assist with far-away objects and can improve vision in one or both eyes. Some telescopes are hand-held such as binoculars, and others clip onto the bridge of a pair of eyeglasses.
Removable telescopes provide magnification on an as-needed basis.
Along with binocular-monocular and mounted telescopic eyewear, wearable assistive eyewear is another option. These low vision aids — worn like a regular pair of glasses — offer a higher level of magnification and can fit over prescription lenses.
The cost of low vision eyeglasses can range from $500 to $3,000.
Typoscopes improve reading by blocking unwanted text. This makes it easier to focus on certain words.
These matte cards — typically made of black material — have a cutout or rectangular window that reveals only a few lines of text at a time.
You’ll slowly move the typoscope to the end of the line as you read to maintain focus and keep your place. These aids are inexpensive and typically cost less than a dollar.
Along with these low vision aids, other non-optical devices can provide assistance and improve vision. These include:
- audible books
- large print books or magazines
- smartphones and tablets with accessibility features (such as the ability to convert text messages and emails into speech)
- clocks and phones with talk features and larger fonts
- antiglare eyeglasses
- increased lighting in the home
Some health insurance plans will cover the cost of vision care (including low vision eye exams), but many don’t cover the cost of low vision aids. The only exception might be when a doctor prescribes the device as necessary.
In most cases, though, you’ll pay out of pocket for these devices.
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Although health insurance plans don’t typically offer coverage, financial assistance might be available.
To find help, ask your eye doctor (i.e., ophthalmologist or optometrist) about discounts or government programs that provide funding. You can also contact your health insurance provider to see if they offer coverage or reimbursement.
Other options include assistance in the form of grants, patient assistance programs, and discount programs.
Grants and financial assistance for low vision assistive devices
- Association of Blind Citizens Assistive Technology Fund
- Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program Technology & Evaluation Center (CAPTEC)
- State-Specific Grants and Assistive Programs
Patient assistance programs for assistive devices
Low vision aid suppliers
- Living Well with Low Vision (suppliers of low vision devices)
- Living Well with Low Vision (suppliers of reading materials in audio)
Even though wet AMD doesn’t cause complete blindness, any vision loss can make everyday tasks more challenging.
Low vision aids can provide some assistance and help maintain your independence and improve your quality of life.
If you’re looking for additional resources, you can check out the following organizations: