Years go by. With age, it is normal to lose some of our visual capacity. Having said that, when this limitation is significant and is not improved by the use of glasses, contact lenses, pharmacological treatments or surgery and we are unable to perform certain everyday tasks, such as reading, watching the television, eating or going up and down the stairs, we consider this to be low vision. This is a condition that can be severe (when visual acuity does not exceed 10%), moderate (between 10% and 20%) or mild (between 20% and 30%) and which particularly affects the elderly and/or those suffering from certain ocular pathologies.
In Spain, around 1 million people suffer from low vision
According to data collected by the Survey of disability, personal autonomy and dependency situations from the National Institute of Statistics, (INE), around one million people suffer from low vision in Spain. “A figure that will increase due to the gradual ageing of the population, increased life expectancy and advances in ophthalmological surgery and pharmacology, which reduce the number of people losing their sight completely, but whose low vision may require vision aids,” confirms Carol Camino, a Low Vision specialist at IMO and President of the Spanish Society of Low Vision Specialists (SEEBV). According to the optometrist, "80% of those affected are people aged over 65, whose visual deficit is usually the result of a common eye disease at that age.”
Visual acuity: the ability of our eyes to perceive the shape and form of objects
A person is deemed to suffer from low vision when their visual acuity is between 0.05 and 0.3 in the better of the eyes and/or their field of vision is less than 20 degrees (normal vision being 270) in the better eye. Visual acuity is understood as the ability that each of our eyes has to perceive the shape and form of objects, while the visual field refers to the portion of the space that each eye is able to see.
Since 2006, IMO's Low Vision Department has helped patients to promote and optimise the residual vision that remains
In 2006, IMO opened a Low Vision Department providing care for patients with highly limited vision that cannot be improved by surgery, pharmacological treatment or glasses. People with this deficit are able to use their residual vision to continue to enjoy some everyday activities. At IMO, attempts are made to make the most of this residual vision through rehabilitation and visual aids.
“When arriving for the consultation, the patient completes an exhaustive questionnaire to assess their visual needs,” explains Carol Camino. “They then undergo a meticulous prescription process that guarantees the effectiveness of the visual aids through acuity (refractometry, retinoscopy, keratometry, etc.), visual field (campimetry, microperimetry, etc.), contrast sensitivity and colour perception tests, among others.”
During appointments, the patient must be clear that they are not recovering their lost vision, but learning to make the most of their residual vision through the use of different aids, such as filters, telescopic lenses, special glasses, etc. It is a long process that requires considerable involvement and collaboration on the patient's part. “It is very important that the person is motivated and wants to remain visually active at all times, whether it is watching the television, reading, working at the computer, etc.," explains the specialist. “I'd also like to add that many of the visual aids require the person to learn to see in another way. For example, patients with macular degeneration have significant vision loss in the central area of the affected eye. In these cases, aside from the visual aids, these people need to learn to look to the sides to save their residual vision.”
An involvement that is not always easy. The sudden and irreversible loss of vision can affect the patient emotionally. Symptoms that usually appear are a lack of confidence, low self-esteem and reduced communication. Hence, when dealing with this new reality, understanding and support from the family is very important from the outset.
Low vision in figures
- 246 million people suffer from low vision worldwide, around 1 million in Spain, 2% of the population.
- 65% of people with low vision are over 65. Currently, this group represents 17% of the population, although by 2050 this is estimated to be 29%.
- Extremadura, Castile La Mancha, Castile and León and Galicia are the autonomous communities where most cases of this visual disability are recorded.
- Up to the age of 65, the visual disability affects more men than women. But, after this age, there are more cases in the female population.
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the main cause of low vision in patients aged 65 and over.
* Source: WHO / NIS * Fuente: OMS/INE