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BVRS Doctors Assist Patients with Vision Problems
By Lois Thomson

Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh offers comprehensive eye exams, and also helps individuals who are blind or who have vision problems, to achieve their best by teaching them how to adapt and use new techniques. The organization now has two doctors on staff who provide these services – one who has been with it for decades, and the other who is relatively new.

Dr. Erica Hacker joined BVRS in 1997, and she said the organization has improved the low-vision service by adding occupational therapy. As the optometrist, she evaluates the person's vision – where that vision is located and how much vision they have to work with – and writes a plan of therapy for the occupational therapist to train them on the use of devices appropriate for their vision loss.

Dr. Hacker explained how those low-vision devices have improved over the years, and with patients having the opportunity for more hands-on practice, the outcomes will be better. "Let's say they can choose between a strong magnifier and a strong pair of glasses. With practice, and by working with the occupational therapist, they read utility bills, they write checks, they check a price tag on grocery items – using each device; and it becomes clear which tool is the most practical for them." She said that has changed over time, when previously one device that was supposed to do everything for the patient may have been prescribed. "Now, the patient with the hands-on training is much more involved, and they decide which device is the most practical for them."

According to Dr. Erica Hacker of BVRS, the top three issues with vision are "macular degeneration, macular degeneration, macular degeneration. That makes up the bulk of our patients. We determine how much of their central vision has been lost, and where the blind spot is located, and we prescribe low-vision tools to augment their peripheral vision to do things like see faces, and do the activities of daily living."

Dr. Hacker works with Dr. Cassandra Fox, who joined BVRS last November. Dr. Fox further explained about the devices, saying, "We are able to offer them all kinds, based on their needs and what they're struggling with. For reading, we have hand-held magnifiers, we have stronger reading glasses, we have what are called stand magnifiers, we have loops or telescopes; and for people with even poorer vision, we have electronic devices that can magnify greatly what their vision is. It's a little different from your comprehensive exam because we don't focus on just the eyes, we focus more on the vision and the vision they have remaining."

Dr. Fox previously worked in Erie, where she was particularly interested in the low-vision field. "When the low-vision job opened up here I jumped on it and was excited when I got the position. Most of our patients are geriatric, and I love working with them, and having the ability to provide them with vision and meet their needs in ways they may not be expecting."

For more information, call (412) 368-4400 or visit www.bvrspittsburgh.org.

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