Nearly 14 million Americans – about one in every 20 people – have visual impairments and 61 million more are at high risk of serious vision loss. To help with this growing problem, Georgia Health Sciences has opened a Low Vision Rehabilitation Center.
The center, a collaboration of the Georgia Health Sciences University Medical College of Georgia Department of Ophthalmology; the College of Allied Health Sciences Department of Occupational Therapy and Driving Simulation Laboratory; and the GHS Medical Center Department of Rehabilitation Services, offers care strategies to patients with low vision.
“This is the first step in uniting vision research science with practicing ophthalmologists and occupational therapists in an environment that enriches a visually impaired person’s life,” said Dr. Julian Nussbaum, Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology, who hopes to expand the program throughout the Southeast.
He plans to eventually integrate research and teaching components into the program through the university’s Vision Discovery Institute.
People with low vision tend to struggle with everyday tasks such as reading, shopping, cooking, paying bills and watching TV, even with corrective lenses, medication or surgery. They comprise the third-fastest-growing group in need of health services in the United States, outpaced only by those with arthritis and heart disease. Contributing to the burgeoning visually impaired population are aging baby boomers and people living longer with chronic diseases such as diabetes.
Treatment for patients with low vision typically has been limited to complex aids such as high-end magnifiers, which often become “expensive paperweights,” Nussbaum said. “People aren’t trained to use these devices, and they frequently don’t suit a person’s particular needs. There’s a whole host of complaints related to low vision and each person has a different priority. We have dedicated practitioners who can sort through this menagerie of things people want, whether it’s being able to sew, play cards or see their grandchildren’s faces.”
Once referred to the center by an ophthalmologist, patients complete a comprehensive evaluation of daily living activities, including orientation, cognitive ability, visual skills, balance, mobility and the need for adaptive techniques and equipment.
“Once we have a realistic assessment, we develop specific strategies in a customized therapy program,” said Mariana D’Amico, Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy and Director of the Low Vision Rehabilitation Center. “Our goal is to help individuals with vision impairment remain safe and independent as they adapt to challenges in their home and community environments.”
Grants from the John and Mary Franklin Foundation have funded the purchase of specialized assessment equipment, adaptive devices and other assistive technologies. A Community Reintegration Lab housed within the occupational therapy department includes a kitchen, restaurant, bank, grocery store and work simulation center.
D’Amico collaborates with Dr. Abiodun Akinwuntan, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy and Director of the GHSU Driving Simulation Laboratory, to assess and rehabilitate patients with driving concerns.
“This service is very much needed,” D’Amico said. “As the population ages, the need will only increase because it’s inevitable that there is some form of vision impairment, such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts.”
For more information, contact D’Amico at 706-721-3641 or firstname.lastname@example.org.