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Is small print a problem?

25 February, 2008 by Peter Verhoeven

I haven't been able to read the paper since May, he said. My vision kept getting worse and worse. I love my sports page. I really miss keeping up with the Vols.

February is Low Vision Awareness Month, and more than 80 million Americans have potentially blinding eye disease, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Wall, 77, has had vision problems for several years and wears glasses for reading and for everyday activities. He was at the Star Center's new Low Vision Clinic on Feb. 14 for a checkup.

After his appointment, Wall left with the hope that he can read newspapers, his favorite car magazines and even utility bills again.

"I'd like to be able to read my mail and check it and see for myself what the bill total is," Wall said.

His doctor, Nicole Mills, recommended a closed-circuit television and a magnifier that would make it possible for him to view things up close.

Mills visits the Star Center twice a month to meet with patients. A student at the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Mills said the partnership between both organizations came together this year to help those suffering from low vision problems.

A low vision patient is someone whose vision cannot be corrected with ordinary glasses, contact lenses, medications or surgery, she said.

"Macular degeneration, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and trauma are some of the conditions that contribute to vision loss," she said.

Dr. Shilpa Register said diseases or traumatic injury can cause low vision disorders, or they may be present from birth. Register works at the Southern College of Optometry.

"Three to 14 million Americans are visually impaired, and that number will double by 2020 as baby boomers age," she said.

During a low vision examination, the doctor will establish an accurate level of vision by testing the ability to see details using specific low vision eye charts, Register said.

"The doctor will also evaluate the extent of visual fields and general eye health," she said. "The doctor will provide recommendations for home and work place modifications that maximize low vision management. Referrals are made to other professionals for training, counseling, assistance and school and job coordination if necessary."

Modern technology offers several items to help those with low vision, Register said.

Mills said patients can choose from magnifiers, telescopes, electronic magnification systems, high powered glasses, prisms, filters and non-optical devices such as talking microwaves.

Register said during examinations, low vision devices tailored to each patient's needs are demonstrated and prescribed

"Follow up examinations are also necessary for some patients to evaluate their ability to adjust to the new devices and their need for other devices," she said.

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