Doctors Explore Ways to Aid
Patients Coping with Vision Loss
by Fran Clever
Weott, California

Upon hearing from an ophthalmologist that they are losing their sight and nothing more can be done, patients frequently experience deep depression or in an angry rage, reject the diagnosis. Often, patients leave the ophthalmologist's office with no knowledge of how to cope with a new way of living, or how to find help.

When patients hear the term "legally blind" with no explanation or clarification of the difference between "legally blind" and blind, they may feel that they can no longer do anything. Figuring they can no longer function in the sighted world, they give up trying to do things on their own. When ophthalmologists are asked about providing patients with help, they frequently remark that they "do not have the time or up-to-date information about living with vision impairment."

Now, all that is changing as a new wave of people reaching retirement age are confronted with the eye problems that come with growing older. Doctors specializing in eye diseases are becoming aware of and studying new approaches for assisting patients beyond the diagnosis of the vision loss. In an expanding field, doctors are learning how to help patients beyond traditional eye care.

On March 17-18, the California Pacific Medical Center and Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute held the first annual Low Vision Rehabilitation Study Group meeting in San Francisco. The purpose of the meting was to brainstorm better ways to reach low vision patients struggling to live independently with vision loss. The meeting was open to anyone actively involved in providing vision rehabilitation services to low vision patients.

According to Dr. August Colenbrander, a former director of the CPMC Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation who assisted Dr. Donald C. Fletcher with the study group, the purpose of the meeting was to create a forum for the exchange of ideas. Its goal is to discuss the problems facing low vision patients and help find solutions.

Dr. Colenbrander reported that the meeting was a great success. There were 36 attendees equally divided between clinicians (MDs and ODs) and therapists (OTs) and educators. Participants came from the East Coast and as far away as the Philippines. The meeting format of brief introductions of problems followed by long discussions proved to be very successful. Plans are already being made for a follow-up meeting.

The CPMC operates a well-known low vision patient rehabilitation center. Therapists at the center help patients learn the skills that enable them to live independently. Training is provided for everyday tasks such as managing finances, preparing meals and using assistive technology.

Dr. Fletcher is the current director of the Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation at the CPMC. He holds the Helen Keller Chair for Research and Education and is a member of the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Support groups and other grass roots organizations are also awakening to the need for better communication between doctors and patients. Many local advocacy groups are working to assist in the exchange of information that will help patients. Newly diagnosed low vision patients need to know there is hope and opportunity after vision loss. With proper assistance in how to live with vision impairment, people with low vision can and do lead successful lives. For more information, visit .

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