Tablets can bring the joy of reading back to people with vision challenges

When gift shopping this year, you have the opportunity to give back a priceless gift to a loved one with low vision: the joy of reading.

People who have eye diseases that damage their central vision can again read quickly and comfortably by using digital tablets, a study shows. On average, patients with moderate vision loss significantly increased their reading speed and comfort using an iPad™ digital tablet. The researchers think that other tablets that feature back-lit screens and font-enlargement capabilities would offer similar benefits.

Senior with tablet

Millions of people who have eye diseases such as macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy struggle with the loss of their central vision. These diseases damage the light-sensitive cells of the eye's retina, which relays images to the optic nerve for transmission to the brain. When treatments like eyeglasses, medications, or surgery are no longer effective, ophthalmologists — eye medical doctors and surgeons — help patients make the most of their remaining sight by using low-vision aids. Before digital tablets came along, reading aids were limited to lighted magnifiers, which are cumbersome and inconvenient by comparison.

"Reading is a simple pleasure that we often take for granted until vision loss makes it difficult," said Daniel Roth, MD, who led the study. "Our findings show that at a relatively low cost, digital tablets can improve the lives of people with vision loss and help them reconnect with the larger world."

All of the 100 participants in the study, conducted at Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine, gained at least 42 words-per-minute when using the iPad2 set to 18-point font, compared with reading a print book or newspaper. People with the poorest vision showed the most improvement in speed when using an iPad or Kindle™, compared with print. The Kindle model used in the study did not have a back-lit screen like the iPad, though other models do.

Today's high-tech gadgets have features that make living with low vision a bit easier. Though the study used iPads and Kindles, most popular tablets on people's shopping lists this year should provide similar benefits, so see which model is the best fit for you. And if you or a loved one is using such devices for their built-in magnification and backlighting, consider adding apps to help track your eye health as well. You have more tools at your disposal than ever before to take control of your eye health.

Page updated: Nov. 27, 2013

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