Low Vision Services

By Mayo Clinic Staff

The goal of the Mayo Clinic Low Vision Service is to help you make the most of the vision you have.

Low vision means having impaired vision that cannot be corrected by glasses, surgery or medication. The most common cause of low vision is macular degeneration, an age-related disease that affects the central portion of your visual field. Other common causes include glaucoma, cataracts and diabetes.

Low vision affects every person differently and requires looking beyond conventional vision-improvement approaches to focus on the patient's particular problem.


A visit to the Mayo Clinic Low Vision Service will include the following:

  • Low vision assessment — A medical social worker will interview you to determine how low vision is affecting you and your family.

  • Comprehensive vision examination — You may already have received an eye exam from an eye doctor, but during a visit to the low vision service, a doctor will give you an extended, refined vision exam. This exam helps pinpoint which lenses and/or low vision devices will help you achieve the clearest possible image.

  • Follow-up and referral — You may be referred to an occupational therapist for training in the use of low vision aids, or the medical social worker can refer you to agencies or organizations in your area that help visually impaired people.

Low-Vision Aids

A wide array of devices, practical tips and innovative ideas are available to help you.

  • Magnifiers — Magnification devices can be hand-held, freestanding, mounted on a headband or on your eyeglasses. Magnifiers can also be worn around your neck. Many models have a built-in light or incorporate various levels of magnification.

  • Good lighting — Most people 65 and older need about twice as much light as they did when they were younger. Making sure you have sufficient light and that it is properly directed is critical for close-up work. For example, a flexible light, such as a gooseneck lamp, can provide good illumination for reading or work.

  • Good mechanics — Your posture, the position of your light and where you hold what you want to see all play a role in your ability to see. Sometimes holding reading material closer to your eyes with a high wattage light focused on the words can make a big difference.

  • Easy-to-see, practical items — Putting recipes on 8-1/2 by 11 notebook pages instead of on 5 by 7 cards, buying a phone with large numbers, and putting easy-to-read labels on kitchen items are all practical ways to make life easier if you have low vision. Everyone who visits the service receives a catalog of easy-to-use, easy-to-see practical items.

  • Telescopes — Miniature telescopes and binoculars, some worn like eyeglasses, may help some people with distance viewing.

  • Special eyeglasses — Bifocal or trifocal glasses that are stronger than normal may help. Also, high-power, prismatic "half-eye" reading glasses are available. Prism glasses can help the good spots in one eye cancel out the bad spots in another.

  • Electronic technology — Many "high-tech" vision aids are available. They include video reading systems that enlarge type 60 times, auto-focus spectacle telescopes, and talking computer systems.

Other Resources

Lighthouse International
111 E. 59th Street, 12th floor
New York, NY 10022-1202
1-800-829-0500 (toll free)
Web site: www.lighthouse.org

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
1291 Taylor Street NW
Washington, DC 20542
Email: nls@loc.gov
Web site: www.LCweb.loc.gov/nls/

Blinded Veterans' Association
477 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001-2694
1-800-669-7079 (toll free)

American Foundation for the Blind
Web site: www.afb.org/

Veterans' Affairs medical centers, Visual Impairment Services
Check with your local Veterans' Administration

Lion's Club International
Check with your local chapter
Web site: www.lionsclubs.org