Low Vision Program Focuses on Need

May 14, 2024

Having trouble recognizing faces or difficulty distinguishing colors? Are you knocking over items you reach for? Having issues with close-up tasks like reading or sewing?

These are common symptoms of low vision.

Low vision is defined as having impaired vision that cannot be corrected by glasses, surgery or medication. There are more than 6 million people in the U.S. living with vision loss from conditions that include macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

Many people with uncorrectable low vision face a reduced quality of life once diagnosed, and those 65 and older with severe vision impairment are 48% more likely to suffer a fall.

Good Shepherd’s Low Vision Program, which is an extension of the Vision Therapy Program, helps people remain independent and safe. Occupational therapists Devin Darby, MS, OTR-L, and Kathryn Karoly, MS, OTR-L, who specialize in low vision, say the program fills a void for the area’s low-vision population.

“There was a hole to be filled to prevent or slow down the loss of independence for people with low vision,” Devin said. “We developed the Good Shepherd program to complement other community services, especially for those early in vision loss.”

The Low Vision Program, open to anyone with a physician referral, helps people with sight loss maintain their abilities and prevent a lower quality of life. The program, overseen by Chief Medical Officer Sandeep Singh, MD, FAAPMR, offers an evaluation that includes:

  • Range of motion and coordination of eyes
  • Contrast and lighting sensitivities
  • Depth perception
  • Peripheral visual skills
  • Reading skills
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Assessment of functional performance challenges in chosen tasks

With a review of eye health history and the evaluation results, an individualized care plan is created that may include therapy tools and assistive technology.

(Left to right) Kathryn Karoly, OT, MS/OTR/L, Jason Stauffer and Devin Darby, MS, OTR/L, inside Good Shepherd’s Hyland Center for Health & Technology.

Low-Tech to High-Tech Tools

From eye movement exercises to virtual reality (VR) headsets, the Low Vision Program offers an array of options to help patients maintain their functional abilities.

“In addition to lower-tech options like prisms, we work with wearable technologies, specialized computer programs, cell phone apps, reading trackers, electronic magnifiers and VR headsets,” Kathryn said. “The IrisVR headset adjusts what the environment looks like for the patient. It can magnify and adjust contrast. Beyond using VR for evaluating patients, we teach them how to use VR for personal use.”

The program works closely with Good Shepherd’s Assistive Technology Program to provide daily living adaptive aids for activities of daily living, such as cooking, cleaning, getting dressed and checking your mail, for people with low vision. Occupational therapists coordinate between departments to select the proper technology to maximize independence.

Good Shepherd’s Empower+ team in Center Valley helps to evaluate and recommend innovative technologies that could benefit patients, including low-vision patients. This collaboration advances the leading-edge services offered by the Low Vision Program, the only official program of its kind in the region.

“We are committed to the safety and independence of our patients, so if we can’t find a solution to a problem, we will help that patient find someone or someplace that can,” Devin said, noting Good Shepherd has community partners who can serve needs outside of Good Shepherd’s program.

Driving Success

Jason Stauffer, a Good Shepherd employee with low vision from a congenital condition, never addressed his sight issue — until he fell, hit his head and suffered a concussion.

Jason (pictured, above, at his specially designed Good Shepherd work station) was referred to a neurosensory optometrist and then began working with Good Shepherd’s experts to address his vision issue.

The first step was to maximize Jason’s work computer setup with software resolution settings, monitor magnifiers and a new keyboard.

“Jason is more efficient with his workstation accommodations,” Devin said. “He is less overwhelmed by what he cannot do.”

The next phase was teaching Jason to use his sight more effectively since one eye drifts to the side. He did vision therapy for 18 months to learn how to use his “good” eye to support his other eye. Jason notes that he gained a 40% improvement in his left eye.

During his last two months of therapy, Jason worked on his physical reaction time related to vision. Things went so well that he is preparing to enroll in Good Shepherd’s Adaptive Driving Program, with the goal of securing a driver’s license.

“When I started the program, I could not read a standard print form and now I have regained some peripheral vision in my eye,” Jason said. “The program and the therapists are amazing.”

Learn more about Good Shepherd’s Low Vision Program or call 1.888.44.REHAB (73422).