Vision Problems: Living With Poor Eyesight

Vision Problems: Living With Poor Eyesight


You don't see as well as you used to. Eye problems such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, cataracts, or diabetic retinopathy may be making it hard to work and manage many of your daily activities. But don't give up. There are lots of things you can do to adapt to low vision and make your life easier and safer.

  • You can adapt your home by making changes to lighting, using contrast in objects that you use often and in structures such as door frames and light switches, labelling and marking medicines and food, and getting rid of potential hazards.
  • If you wear glasses, keeping your lens prescription current can help you adapt to your vision problems.
  • Visual aids and adaptive technologies can help you work, communicate, and travel. These include magnifying lenses, special video cameras to enlarge pictures or print, large-print books and newspapers, and adaptive appliances.
  • Counselling, rehabilitation, and training can help you with managing your household, cooking, shopping, personal grooming, and other aspects of daily home and work life.
  • If your low vision prevents you from driving, you can explore other ways to get around, such as riding with family and friends, using public transportation, or taking taxis. You can also see if your area offers low-cost bus or taxi service for people who have low vision.
  • Building a personal support network can help you keep or improve your quality of life and cope with your vision problems.

To keep doing the things you enjoy, you will want to make a few changes to your lifestyle. The changes you need to make depend on how much vision you have lost, what kinds of activities you like to do, and your current lifestyle. Making changes may seem difficult and time-consuming, but be patient. You can keep your independence and continue the activities you enjoy.

How can I adapt to my poor eyesight?

Some simple changes can help you use your remaining vision to its full potential and allow you to live as independently as possible. Here are some keys to success.

Making changes at home

Make simple changes

  • Make a list of things you have trouble doing.
  • Make simple accommodations at home that will help you manage your household chores and care for your personal needs.
  • Use low-vision aids and adaptive technology, such as lenses and other devices, to enhance your remaining vision.

These are a few ideas on how to make living with low vision easier and safer. For more ideas, see a low-vision rehabilitation specialist.

Use lighting

  • Position lighting so that it is aimed at what you want to see, and aimed away from your eyes.
  • Add table and floor lamps in areas where extra lighting is often needed.
  • Use window coverings that let you adjust the level of natural lighting.
  • Make sure that potentially hazardous areas such as entries and stairways are well lit.

Use contrast

Contrast helps your eyes to distinguish objects and their surroundings based on differences in brightness or colour, rather than shape or location. If you have low vision, you may need more light to be able to distinguish objects with similar brightness or colour (low contrast).

  • Place light objects against a dark background or dark objects against a light background. For example, if you have white or light-coloured walls, use dark switch plates for your light switches. Or use lighted switches that glow softly. They are easier to identify.
  • You can also use paint in a contrasting colour to mark electrical outlets, oven dials, thermostats, and other items. This will make the items easier to find and use.
  • Paint door frames in a contrasting colour. For example, if the door is light, paint the frame with a dark colour. Use dark doorknobs on light-coloured doors.
  • In your bathroom, use contrasting colour for items such as cups, soap dishes, and even the soap.

Label and mark

  • Use high contrast when you make labels, signs, and other markings. For example, use bold black lettering on a white background. Post signs at eye level. Use coloured, high-contrast labels to "colour code" medicines, spices, foods, and other items.
  • Label any medicines you take so that they are easily and clearly identified. You can also wrap rubber bands around each of your medicine bottles. Use a different amount of bands for each medicine, and keep track of the number of bands on each medicine type. Then, feel for the number of bands when you need to take a certain medicine.
  • Mark the positions of the temperature settings you use most frequently on your stove and oven controls, as well as the "on" and "off" positions.
  • In the kitchen and bathroom, mark the settings for the faucets that provide the right water temperature. To prevent overfilling a sink or bathtub, mark the water level you want with a strip of waterproof tape or a waterproof marker.
  • Mark the areas around stairways and ramps with paint or tape. A high-contrast colour such as dark tape on light carpeting works best.
  • Attach a safety pin to the labels of clothes that have similar colours.

Avoid potential hazards

  • Replace or remove any worn carpeting or floor coverings. If you use throw rugs or area rugs, tape them down or remove them.
  • Avoid smooth floor coverings. And don't wax kitchen and bathroom floors. Use non-skid, non-glare cleaners on smooth floors.
  • Remove electrical cords from areas where you need to walk. If this isn't possible, tape them down so you won't trip over them.
  • Arrange your furniture so that it doesn't stick out into areas where you need to walk. Keep chairs pushed in under tables and desks when they are not being used. Keep desk, cabinet, and bureau drawers closed.
  • Keep doors either fully opened or fully closed, but not halfway. If doors stick out into a room or hallway, keep them closed.
  • Make sure the handrails on stairways and ramps extend beyond the top and bottom steps. People often stumble when they miss a step at the top or bottom of an incline. Consider installing handrails in other potentially hazardous areas.

Using visual aids and other adaptive technologies

Learning to use low-vision aids and adaptive technologies may help you make the best use of your remaining vision.

Low-vision aids

Low-vision aids are special lenses or electronic systems that make images appear larger, such as:

  • Magnifying lenses. These may range from simple hand-held lenses for reading to special eyeglasses or magnifiers much like the lenses that jewellers use. Some lenses have a built-in light for better illumination. And some are mounted on stands so your hands are free. For distance vision, small handheld telescopes or lenses that clip onto your eyeglasses may be used.
  • Video enlargement systems. These are electronic systems that can be used to send an enlarged image of print, pictures, or other items onto a screen where it is easier for you to see. Examples include a closed-circuit television camera (CCTV) or video camera. These systems can also sometimes adjust brightness and contrast to make the enlarged image easier to see. Some video systems have both the camera and screens built into a head-mounted device that looks like a pair of large goggles. This allows a person to move around while using them.
  • Computer display and enlargement systems. Large screens and software that enlarge print, pictures, and other visual information are available. Computers also allow you to alter brightness, contrast, colour, and other parts of the display. This can make it easier to see what is on the screen. Computers are sometimes used with video enlargement systems.

Diabetes aids

If your low vision is caused by diabetes, some aids that may help you include:

  • Needle guides and other devices. They can help you locate and stick the needle through the rubber stopper on your insulin bottle and help you prepare mixed- or single-dose insulin injections. There are also bottle-holding devices that help you hold the bottle and syringe to safely withdraw insulin. There are devices to help you draw the same amount of insulin every time. Insulin pens that show the units by clicking or have large-print markings can be used to give insulin that comes in a cartridge. Other needle aids help you inject insulin with pens or syringes.
  • "Talking" or large-print home blood sugar meters. A large-print meter can help you see your blood sugar result clearly. There are also some "talking" meters.
  • "Talking" or large-print food scales. If you need to weigh your food, there are large-print or talking food scales. You can also estimate portion sizes by other means. For example, you can use your hand to judge portion sizes.
  • Computerized blood sugar records. Most home blood sugar meter companies have computer software that allows your blood sugar results to be entered directly into a computer. Then you don't have to keep handwritten records. You can also print these in large print so that you can read the records.
  • Tape recorder for record keeping. You can speak your daily blood sugar results and other information directly into a tape recorder.

Adaptive technology

Adaptive technology is used in devices or products that may not help you see better but can make life easier and safer. Many are designed to help you perform common tasks that may be harder when you have impaired vision. Examples include:

  • Large-print items. Books, newspapers, magazines, medicine labels, bank checks, and playing cards are often available in large print. Many people with low vision also use audio versions of books and other printed materials.
  • Special papers and writing aids. These may be something as simple as paper with extra-bold lines that help you write information on checks in the proper spaces.
  • Adaptive appliances. These are common household items that have been adapted for use by people with low vision. Examples are clocks and watches with electronic voices that announce the time. Or you can find clocks, telephones, and home appliances with extra-large buttons and numerals that can be seen more easily.
  • Speech software for computer systems. Special software allows computers to recognize spoken commands or to convert dictated speech into text. Speech synthesis software allows computers to speak text and read documents.
  • Optical character recognition (OCR) software. OCR systems allow you to scan documents and convert them into computer text. Then the text can be enlarged for display or read aloud by a speech synthesis program.

Some of these measures are easy to build into your life. Others require big changes in the way that you do things at home, at work, or elsewhere. Some measures, such as computer programs or electronic systems, can be costly or may take time to learn to use properly. You will need to decide which ones will work best for you.

Staying active

It's important to stay active for your health. But first ask your doctor what physical activities are safe for you to do. If you bend, lift things, or move fast, it may affect your health or vision. After you know whether or not you need to avoid any activities, find some things that you like to do and make them as safe as possible. For example:

  • Ask a friend to read you the instructions for a new exercise and check your technique.
  • Walk with someone who can help spot things that may pose a hazard.
  • If you swim laps, use a pool that has ropes between the lanes.

Getting around

Having low vision can lead to losing your ability to drive. It's hard to give up the convenience of going where you want whenever you want. But you don't have to be homebound. You have options for getting around safely.

  • Ask your family and friends for help. If asking for help is hard for you, you could offer to pay for their time or gas to take you on errands.
  • Use public transportation. Check with your local transit company for schedules. Also see if your area has paratransit services that can take you door-to-door where you need to go.
  • Think about using taxis. It may sound expensive. But don't forget that it also costs a lot to own a car, buy gas, and pay for insurance and maintenance.
  • Ask your eye doctor or counsellor about organizations in your community that offer low-cost alternative transportation.
  • Think about using a white cane. It can help you feel safer as you move around. And a cane can let people know that you may have trouble seeing.

Getting support

There are many resources to help you meet the challenges of living with reduced vision and keep your quality of life.

Seek counselling, rehabilitation, and training

Look for low-vision specialists and groups and agencies that offer counselling, training, and other special services related to vision loss. Low-vision rehabilitation specialists can give you detailed practical information and training on managing your household and other activities of daily life that can be more challenging when you have low vision. These specialists can also help you find ways to cope with low vision in the workplace. Specialists may include:

  • Rehabilitation counsellors and teachers who can address specific needs.
  • Occupational therapists.
  • Orientation and mobility specialists.
  • Low-vision specialists.
  • Experts in technology adapted for people with visual impairment.
  • Professional counsellors. They can offer guidance and support in dealing with the emotional and psychological effects of living with impaired vision.

Build your personal support network

There are many resources available to help you overcome the challenges of living with low vision, to make the best use of the vision you do have, and to keep your quality of life. Your family and friends, as well as your health care and social services professionals, can help you.


Current as of: October 12, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Christopher J. Rudnisky MD, MPH, FRCSC - Ophthalmology