Patients put in their 2 cents on optical devices

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During the time he's been a patient of optometrist Paul Freeman at Low Vision Rehabilitation at Allegheny General Hospital, John Joyce has experimented with a number of optical devices to help him see better.

Since age 10, Mr. Joyce, 68, of Monroeville, has had Stargardt macular dystrophy, which causes a loss of central vision. Despite his low vision, he made his living as a computer programmer. In retirement he still builds and repairs computers, does wood-working and home repairs, and rides his bicycle. He gleefully recounted his experiments for Dr. Freemen.

"He gets different instruments, and I test them for him," said Mr. Joyce.

Among them were a video card that allowed him to magnify his computer screen by 16 times; telescopic glasses for wearing at football and baseball games and a monocular, a device for one eye used for vision close or far away.

But the devices Mr. Joyce employs most are two little hand magnifiers he saw his brother-in-law use in his work as a surveyor. Called variable magnification, one is a four-power magnifier, the other a three. They can be put together to magnify seven times.

"Without that thing I would be out of commission," Mr. Joyce said.

There are all sorts of optical and nonoptical devices for low vision on the market, and patients can be assessed for what best suits their needs at area low vision rehabilitation centers.

Samantha Elsey, 34, of Etna, who is deaf with progressive vision loss due to Usher syndrome, had an assessment as part of her rehabilitation at Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh in Homestead.

Along with giving tips for use of a long white cane, optometrist Erica Hacker prescribed use of a hand magnifier, a pocket magnifier, a 2.5 power monocular, bold line paper, a signature guide and a large-print calculator.

Late last fall, occupational therapist Kristy Ondriezek of the Low Vision Rehabilitation Center of Allegheny Valley Hospital in Natrona Heights assessed an 87-year-old Fawn woman with macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. The woman declined to be interviewed, but her daughter-in-law, Laurel, agreed to talk about what was done.

Ms. Ondriezek worked with the woman to see what kind of lighting best suited her and determined it was a combination of fluorescent and incandescent. She suggested the woman use a black textured place mat for sorting her pills and dark measuring cups for sugar and flour, since the woman loves to bake. The therapist also recommended raised dots be placed on the oven thermostat and microwave timer at frequently used readings.

Her daughter took the kitchen clock and made the hands bolder, and the woman also got a larger check register and writing guide. Total cost on these items, Laurel said, was less than $25.

"It's made Mom's life a little bit easier," she said. "Mom has great doctors, but this goes beyond the medical. This is going to living every day."

As a Christmas present, the woman's children bought her a high-tech magnifier, with which she could read without hesitation. It cost nearly $600.

Laurel said the price was worth it. "She doesn't watch TV," she said. "For her not to be able to read -- she loves reading the paper -- and it opened it up for her again."


Pohla Smith: psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228.


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