With more than 25 million Americans living with some form of uncorrectable vision impairment today, more and more high-tech devices for low-vision problems are available, ranging in price from less than $40 to several thousand dollars. These devices can help you read menus, books, magazines and newspapers...make phone calls...work on your computer and even get around your neighborhood more easily. Here, some of the best...
Cell phone that speaks: The Samsung Haven from Verizon Wireless is able to "speak everything that appears on the display screen, including caller ID names and numbers, text messages and keypad presses when you dial a number. It also lets you make calls and send text messages by speaking the name of the person that you want to contact. The phone has extra-large, high-contrast text and big touch keys. 800-256-4646, www.verizonwireless.com.
Telephone that speaks: The all-purpose ClearSounds CSC1000 Amplified Freedom Phone has big buttons with a backlit keypad that "speaks" the numbers as you dial and a caller-ID that speaks and displays the name and number of the person who is calling. It also amplifies incoming speech up to 48 decibels (dB), compared with the standard 12 dB to 13 dB. It has a built-in answering machine and eight photo-memory dial buttons that let you insert pictures of family members or friends over preprogrammed buttons, so you can simply press the picture of the person you want to call to automatically dial. 800-965-9043, www.clearsounds.com.
Low-vision eReader: For instant access to thousands of books, the Apple iPad 2 tops the list as the best eReading device for the visually impaired. It provides a large 9.7-inch high-resolution screen and a variety of built-in accessibility features, including font magnification up to 56 points and white text on black background contrast adjustment. Its VoiceOver feature is able to read the text of books and any other text on the screen out loud. It comes with a feature that allows you to find your iPad using GPS, should you lose it. 800-692-7753, www.apple.com.
For a low-tech alternative, the Library of Congress Talking Books program offers a free tape player and unlimited free books on tape to the legally blind—those whose vision is 20/200 or worse in the better eye. 888-657-7323, www.nlstalkingbooks.org.
Portable text-to-speech: The Intel Reader turns written text into spoken words. The handheld device, which includes a five-megapixel auto-focus camera and an Intel processor, weighs a little more than one pound and is about the size of a paperback book. You hold the device over a page...and shoot and capture the image, which the device can read aloud at a speed that you choose. It can store up to 500,000 pages of text. The battery lasts for more than four hours. www.careinnovations.com.
Alternatives: For iPhone 4 users, the new ZoomReader application developed by Ai Squared uses the built-in iPhone camera to take a picture of text and then reads it aloud. 800859-0270, www.aisquared.com.
To protect yourself from being shortchanged or making mistakes when you pay for things with cash and receive change in bills, the iBill made by Orbit Research identifies all US bills by voice or by a series of tones or vibrations for privacy. You just insert the bill into a slot in the battery-operated device, which is small enough to fit on a key ring. Most bills are identified in less than a second, and it has just two buttons for operation. 888-606-7248, www.orbit research.com.
Alternatives: The Look Tel Money Reader, a $1.99 application for the iPad 2 and some models of the iPhone and iPod Touch, also identifies US currency out loud. It does not require an Internet connection, so it can read money from any location. www.looktel.com
The free EyeNote application from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing works similarly and is compatible with the iPad 2 and all iPhones and iPod Touch models that have a camera. www.Eyenote.gov.
Portable electronic magnifier: For reading small print, such as food labels and bills, the Ruby handheld video magnifier by Freedom Scientific provides clarity, contrast and magnification up to 14 times, far beyond an ordinary magnifying glass. It offers four high-contrast reading modes that let you change the text and background colors for comfortable reading on a 4.3-inch full-color video screen. It also has a freeze-frame option that allows you to capture an image on the screen and bring it close for better viewing and further magnification. It's small enough to fit in your pocket or purse. 800-444-4443, www.freedomscientific.com.
Computer magnifier/reader: To customize a Microsoft Windows personal computer for low-vision, Ai Squared offers a software application called ZoomText Magnifler/Reader that lets you magnify everything on your computer up to 36 times. It provides eight different zoom window types that allow you to choose which part of the screen is magnified. It even speaks all program controls, including menus and list views. And when you want to give your eyes a rest, Zoom Text can read your documents, Web pages and e-mail to you through your computer's speakers. It also can speak each key or word that you type and read any text that you point your mouse at. These features are far superior to the Microsoft accessibility features that are built into Windows software. 800-859-0270, www.aisquared.com.
Daily Aspirin Warning
Daily aspirin use may be linked to vision loss. Wet late-stage aging macular disorder (AMD)—also called age-related macular degeneration—is twice as common in people who take aspirin daily as in people who never use aspirin.
Caution: Do not stop aspirin therapy without talking with your physician.
Eye Care Helps Alzheimer's Patients
One-quarter of 38 Alzheimer's patients (average age 85) who had standard cataract surgery improved in their ability to perceive, understand and respond appropriately to their surroundings. In addition, the patients' symptoms of depression eased as much as is typical when adults without dementia undergo cataract surgery. Sleep patterns also improved, while nighttime behavior problems decreased-perhaps due to normalized levels of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.
If a loved one has Alzheimer's: Continue to have his/her eyes regularly examined and consider cataract surgery if necessary.
Get the Shingles Vaccine
Get the shingles vaccine even if you have already had shingles if you are age 60 or older, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles can recur, and the vaccine can lower the risk for recurrence. Some people develop shingles even if they have received the vaccination, but the vaccine may reduce the severity and duration of the outbreak.
New Heart-Valve Surgery for Seniors
A new heart valve may be better for older A patients (see page 177 for more details). The valve, implanted through the groin, may be the only safe way to replace a heart valve in elderly patients who would not survive a standard operation. It works as well as a valve inserted through traditional surgery, but the insertion increases the risk for stroke. Discuss the options with your doctor.