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Living with low vision, elderly cling to freedom with the help of seeing tools

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Posted at 10:29 AM, Dec 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-02 23:54:52-05

More people than ever before are being diagnosed with low vision, a seeing impairment that can't be fixed with glasses, according to Executive Director of the Envision Research Institute Doctor Laura Walker.

The most common type of low vision is macular degeneration, an age related disease, causing blurred vision or loss of vision. This can be dangerous for elderly people, as the loss is gradual.

Some elderly people cling to their freedom and independence, not wanting to burden their friends or family.

Ruth Saperstein, 92, lives with this eye disease and remains self reliant, using any tools she can get her hands on, to help her throughout her day.

She said the key is having the right doctors. When she first moved to Baltimore to be closer to her children after her husband passed, she thought she had to have her glasses changed.

"It was getting harder to read, and I used to be a knitter and I saw I was missing too many stitches," Saperstein said she went to her eye doctor and he diagnosed her with macular degeneration.

It was a surprise, but Saperstein is tenacious and determined to continue living with her current lifestyle.

"Your sight depends on it, I think you'd do anything that's necessary to save it," Saperstein said.

She now has an arsenal of tools throughout her home. She has several magnifying glasses, small ones she can take in her purse when she goes shopping to see price tags, a large one in her bedroom for when she balances her checkbook.

In her desk drawer is a large print, talking calculator, and sharpies so she can read her own writing.

In her kitchen sits a large print telephone from the State of Maryland. Across the small room, dots, the size of a pencil eraser, indicate what setting to turn the oven or toaster oven to.

She also gets free large print calendars from the Jewish Heritage for the Blind, and large print books from the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

Her favorite tool is a tablet that she downloads books onto, and reads each night before bed.

"The background is nice and white and the letters are black and you can make them as big or as small as you want. I find that's a wonderful thing," Saperstein said.

Saperstein started a group, Norwest Neighbors Connecting, that transports elderly people in her community to the mall, grocery store, airport, wherever they need to go. They pay a small monthly fee for the service and organize trips.

Saperstein said she's part of another social group that brings older people together to keep them engaged, "it keeps your mind working, and that's the most important thing for people when you get older."

While she has these tools that enable her to continue living an independent lifestyle, she knows eventually that will change.

"I'm sure that eventually it'll get worse and worse. However I have great faith in the doctors and that they're keeping an eye on everything that is going on," Saperstein said.

She encourages others in her situation to reach out and use the tools the state and other organizations provide.