Low vision describes any loss of eyesight that cannot be fixed with glasses, said executive director of the Envision Research Institute, Dr. Laura Walker.
When someone loses their vision, it can be gradual.
"A lot of folks are still out there driving, and that can be very dangerous, not seeing a pedestrian. You have large blind spots that you're not visually aware of," Walker said. "The thing is our brain will fill a lot of that in, so you might not be seeing something, because it's this regular pattern."
The problem is, according to Dr. Walker, people do not know to ask the question, "Could this be low vision?" Or if they do, getting care can be difficult and expensive.
Macular Degeneration is the most common form of low vision, causing difficulty for 1.6 million people 50 years or older in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Our aging demographic alone, is making the numbers skyrocket," Walker said.
Other causes of vision loss are diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, glaucoma, and concussions. The affects are blurriness, dark areas of vision, inability to see in low light, and double vision. These are just a few examples.
"Reading can be very difficult, eye hand coordination, driving can be lost. I mean all these things we don't even realize are really fundamental to our independence in the world," Walker said.
Once in the doctor's office, sometimes physicians do not have all the tools they need.
"Many of our primary care doctors don't yet realize the value that rehabilitation can give to an individual," she said.
Walker said people facing low vision can learn strategies from occupational therapists to help maintain their quality of life.
"Occupational therapy services can sometimes be covered, but blindness and visual impairment are often considered a marginal disability so many of the aides that are required, if you think about CC TVs, other accessibility tools, those will often not be covered," she said.
Dr. Walker said those tools are essential to low vision patients.
Envision continues to research low vision, find out what causes different types of impairment, screening and testing for low vision, developing technology that helps visually impaired people and rehabilitating those people, through work and training programs.
Dr. Walker suggests regular visits to the doctor, getting the back of your eye looked at, and thinking to ask the question of low vision are ways you and your family can get ahead of this impairment.