For About and By Caregivers
Focus on Video Magnifiers

By  Kristine Dwyer, LSW, Staff Writer


Martha and Ken were married for more than 45 years when Ken began showing signs of multiple sclerosis. As the disease progressed and his caregiving needs increased, Martha found her own health status changing. She was having more difficulty breathing and she began to notice a decrease in her vision. Over the next two years, Ken became confined to a wheelchair and Martha was diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and put on daily oxygen. Her eyesight continued to deteriorate to the point of near blindness. She was no longer able to drive, read the mail, see recipes or the print on prescription bottles. Photos were blurry, bills were late and Martha was unable to manage her correspondence or even read her Bible. Her world had sharply narrowed and depression quickly set in. How was she going to safely care for Ken without her sight?  There was turmoil in their lives and they were at risk of losing their independence!

A social worker was referred to Martha and Ken to make a visit and assess their current needs. The social worker then set up a home visit with a low vision specialist to meet with Martha. He was able to offer her support, education and an opportunity to try some video magnifying equipment to enhance her remaining vision.  The results were astonishing! A month later, Martha revealed, with tears in her eyes, that she had been given her life back. The desktop video magnifier she purchased had allowed her to once again read the newspaper, see her mail, write out checks for their bills, understand the words on medication bottles, work puzzles, string beads for her jewelry hobby and even clearly see the photograph of her new great grandchild. She boasted how she was now able to read three hours a day and had gained a new lease on life. The positive impact on her ability to care for Ken was becoming obvious as she set up his pillbox, reviewed his medical insurance forms and then prepared his favorite dessert recipe.
Low vision can vary with each individual and may be a result of a birth defect, eye injuries, the aging process or diseases such as macular degeneration or diabetes. Age-related macular degeneration, for example, is the leading cause of central vision loss in people over age 55 and accounts for more than 45 percent of all low vision cases.

Advancements in technology have now allowed those with low vision the opportunity to “see” again. The goal of producing high quality video magnifiers is to help those with low or diminishing vision to remain independent and active. They are mostly used for reading, but can also be used for writing, viewing maps or even filling a syringe. Video magnifiers are a step beyond the hand magnifier, which allows only a few words to be seen at a time vs. whole sentences, paragraphs or columns. Words or photos are magnified from two to 50 times their original size in comparison to the handheld magnifier that generally offers only 15 to 20 times magnification.

The video magnifier is its own television system (closed-circuit television – CCTV). The most common type is intended for use on a desktop or other work surface. Printed material, photographs or objects are placed under a camera and the magnified image is displayed onto a television screen or computer monitor. The user can then magnify and focus the image until it is large enough to be clearly seen. The entire unit can be controlled with a single button and can be customized to meet each person’s needs. Color and black and white viewers are both available; however, more specific information is received from the color viewer.  An orange fruit, for example, can be clearly identified in color, yet in black and white it looks like a ball. Other vision enhancing products that are available are computer magnification software, hand-held pocket electronic magnifiers, and other products for accessible scanning and reading.

Magnifying machines may be the best kept secret for improving low vision. They have been on the market for over 20 years, yet are not widely sought after. One initial deterrent may be the price, but the benefits can far outweigh the cost. A new machine may cost from $1000 to $3000, but resale options are very positive. The price depends on the quality of the image, flexibility of the magnification, size of the screen, ease of use and extra features. In some states, county programs will contribute payment toward a video magnifier for clients, especially if it will help them remain independent at home. Payment support may also be attained through state agencies such as the State Services for the Blind, personal savings, bank loans, Lions Clubs or financial gifts from family
and relatives.

Many benefits can be achieved with a desktop video magnifier. These include independent living, management of personal affairs, increased knowledge and safety, and the ability to continue in one’s job and career. Some people are even able to have a machine at home and at their office to maximize their visual success in both settings. Those who benefit the most seem to be caregivers with low vision and single individuals that have to totally rely on themselves for safe and independent living.

Vision specialists do caution potential buyers that the video magnifier may not work for everyone due to variances in visual acuity or multiple disabilities. It is strongly recommended that an individual tests a machine or takes advantage of a short trial at home before making a purchase. As a general guide, if someone can read the largest headline in the newspaper, then a video magnifier is likely to be of use to them.

Low vision no longer has to keep people from enjoying the activities they once took for granted. It can clearly be seen that caregivers and others with limited vision can receive daily benefits when their world is magnified!
Advances in vision technology have produced the potential for significant life changes with the use of video magnifiers. Experience life again through “new eyes!”

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