Note: In 2011, AOTA identified low vision as an emerging niche in occupational therapy. It has since become more mainstream, so newer content appears elsewhere on this site. This page has been retained for historical information. Learn more about the 2011 Emerging Niche series here.
Why emerging? An aging population means aging bodies. Problems with vision affect 18% of the older population and nearly 30% of people age 85 and older.1 According to the National Eye Institute, low vision is a visual impairment that standard eyeglasses, contact lenses, medication, or surgery cannot correct and that makes performing everyday activities difficult.2 Occupational therapy practitioners who work with older adults need to be able to address these clients' visual needs.
Get Involved! While working in an inpatient rehab facility, Jennifer Kaldenberg, MSA, OTR/L, SCLV, FAOTA, became interested in figuring out the vision issues of individuals who had experienced a neurological insult, and she began taking continuing education courses in the area of vision. When she read an article about addressing issues with individuals with visual impairment written by an employee at New England Eye, she knew the facility needed the help of an occupational therapist. She contacted the author of the article and discussed how occupational therapy could improve their services—New England Eye hired her and she has been working there for the past 10 years.
Kaldenberg points out that all occupational therapy practitioners who work with older adults will have clients with visual impairment, and they do not need to work in a specialized clinic to address visual needs. "They just need to identify the need and then learn appropriate intervention strategies to address the specific needs," she says. "Many times there are very simple solutions such as increasing the lighting or properly positioning the lighting." As technology continues to advance, practitioners need to remain current in their knowledge of new devices to address visual impairment. Practitioners should also remain current in the evidence related to occupational therapy, optometry, and ophthalmology.
"Every OT working with older adults should be assessing and addressing the visual needs of their clients," says Kaldenberg. "Although there are no cures for the major age-related eye diseases, there are many things we can do to help clients remain safe, independent, and engaged in activities that are important to them."
- AOTA Tip Sheet:
- AOTA Fact Sheet:
- OT Practice articles:
- Watching Their Steps: Integrating Vision Intervention Into Daily Practice to Limit Fall Risk at Skilled Nursing Facilities by Natalie E. Leland, PhD, OTR/L, BCG, Jennifer Kaldenberg, MSA, OTR/L, SCLV, FAOTA, and Irene Leein June 18, 2012, OT Practice.
- Specialty Level II Fieldwork in Low-Vision Rehabilitation: A Model for Learning Best Practices by Julie Ann Nastasi, OTD, OTR/L, SCLV, in June 18, 2012, OT Practice.
- Sharing in the Journey: Low Vision Support Groups by Shannon Digsby-Schoellig, OTD, MS, OTR/L, in February 8, 2010, OT Practice
- CE Article: Occupational Therapy Approaches To Facilitate Productive Aging for Individuals With Low Vision by Orli Weisser-Pike, OTR/L, SCLV, CLVT and Jennifer Kaldenberg, MSA, OTR/L, SCLV, CLVT in February 22, 2010, OT Practice
Emerging Niche in All Practice Areas