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5 Reading Tech Tools for People with Dry AMD

Medically Reviewed By Sara N. Frye, OD, MPH, FAAO

Advanced technology can assist your reading if dry age-related macular degeneration affects your vision.

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Vision changes may occur in older adults due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Most people with AMD have dry AMD. As with many medical conditions, early detection and intervention can help slow the progression of dry AMD and preserve vision. However, for people with some degree of vision loss, innovative technology may help them continue performing daily tasks and maintaining independence.

Understanding dry AMD

Dry AMD is a common eye condition that affects the central portion of the visual field. It develops when a part of your retina, called your macula, becomes damaged as you age. Accumulations of debris, called drusen, build up under your macula, causing it to degenerate.

In the early stages, you may not have any symptoms. Over time, however, you may develop blurry, distorted, or blank spots in your central vision. Dry AMD can affect how you see colors, and it may be hard to see well in low light. You may have difficulty discerning fine details, driving, or recognizing faces. Dry AMD can make reading incredibly challenging.

If you have dry AMD and trouble reading, let your doctor know. They may be able to offer suggestions or refer you to a low vision specialist for an assessment.

Based on your needs, some of the following visual aids may be recommended.

1. Magnifiers

Magnifiers are among the most frequently used tools for people who have vision loss due to AMD. They can make the image perceived by your retina larger than the damaged portion of your macula, allowing you to see the text more clearly.

Magnifiers come in several forms:

  • handheld or desktop magnifiers
  • magnifying reading glasses
  • video magnifiers, like closed circuit televisions, that project text onto a screen

2. Screen readers

You are probably used to interacting with screens daily, whether reading emails, surfing the web, or checking documents. However, accessing digital content can be difficult when you have vision changes from AMD. Screen readers, like JAWS (Job Access with Speech) and VoiceOver, can help.

Screen readers are software programs that convert text on a computer screen to speech. You can navigate through the content using specified gestures or keyboard commands. Screen readers can also be adapted to your preferences, such as reading speed and language.

3. Optical character recognition technology

What about printed materials, like mail? Optical character recognition (OCR) software can scan printed pages and turn them into spoken words. Examples of OCR software include the Kurzwell 1000 and OpenBook.

Some OCR devices are stand-alone units, while others must be used with a computer.

4. E-book readers and tablets

Due to their accessibility features, handheld electronic devices like electronic readers may help you read your favorite books and magazines. For example, you can enlarge the font or change the contrast to see the text better.

Most devices also offer a text-to-speech option, enabling you to have a book read aloud if you prefer.

5. Smartphone apps

Smartphones have placed some of the newest reading technology right in the palm of your hand. Depending on the model of your phone, you likely already have a screen reader built in.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology provides a great list of available apps for people with visual impairments. You can find apps for magnification to help and apps that offer access to e-books and audiobooks. There is even an app called the KNFB reader that allows you to take a picture of any text and have it read back to you.

Making reading tech affordable

Check with your health insurance to see whether low vision aids are covered in your plan. Financial assistance may also be available through other programs. Ask your eye doctor or low vision specialist about potential options. Your state may also offer financial support programs for visual aids.

Other resources to explore include:

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  1. Age-related macular degeneration. (2021). https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/age-related-macular-degeneration
  2. Chung, STL (2020). Reading in the presence of macular disease: A mini-review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7093247/
  3. Mukamal, R. (2020). 30 apps, devices, and technologies for people with vision impairments. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/low-vision-impairment-apps-tech-assistive-devices
  4. Reduce vision loss from age-related macular degeneration — V-07. (n.d.). https://health.gov/healthypeople/objectives-and-data/browse-objectives/sensory-or-communication-disorders/reduce-vision-loss-age-related-macular-degeneration-v-07
  5. Turning the printed page into machine-readable text. (n.d.). https://www.afb.org/blindness-and-low-vision/using-technology/using-technology-reading-solutions-people-visual/turning
  6. Visual impairment, blindness cases in U.S. expected to double by 2050. (2016). https://www.nei.nih.gov/about/news-and-events/news/visual-impairment-blindness-cases-us-expected-double-2050

Medical Reviewer: Sara N. Frye, OD, MPH, FAAO
Last Review Date: 2024 Apr 1
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