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Little-known devices restore vision to people who can't be helped by regular glasses

Katy Read, Star Tribune on

Published in Health & Fitness

Dick Bramer likes to watch birds flock outside the window of his home in Scandia. But for two years he couldn't see them well enough to identify the various species.

"I've got bird feeders and stuff out there, so that's kind of my thing," said Bramer, 76. "There are all kinds of birds coming in."

In July 2021 Bramer suffered what doctors diagnosed as an ocular stroke (they said a small particle of plaque must have blocked blood flow to the optic nerve) in one eye. He already had lost vision in his other eye decades earlier, due to what doctors said was a swollen optic nerve.

After the stroke, everything was blurry. When he watched a football game, his wife, Polly, had to tell him the score and the time left, because he couldn't see the writing on the TV screen. He couldn't safely do the woodworking projects he used to love. When they went to see their grandchildren play football, soccer or baseball, he couldn't follow the games because he couldn't see the ball.

The Bramers looked everywhere for something that might help. They went to stores catering to low-vision consumers, but found that most of the products were aids to help people function better without their vision, not improve its clarity. Because they spend winters in Florida, they figured some of the other retirees must have heard of a solution. Nope.

Then a friend happened to tell them about Low Vision Restoration in Blaine, Minnesota. Optometrist Chris Palmer, who founded the clinic, prescribes devices that can help improve people's vision when other glasses can't. Palmer fitted Bramer with the devices, which are like miniature binoculars or telescopes affixed to regular glasses.

 

Bramer tried them out and suddenly saw his wife clearly for the first time since the stroke.

"He said, 'I can see her! I can see her face! She's wearing a necklace!'" Polly recalled. "And tears just came to my eyes, because he hadn't seen it for several months."

The devices, called bioptic telescopic glasses, can help patients resume reading, recognizing faces across a room, watching TV, playing cards, in some cases even driving, Palmer said. But for reasons nobody seems to be able to explain, few people have heard of them.

"They tend not to be widely utilized, unfortunately," said Coon Rapids ophthalmologist Scott Peterson, who does refer patients to Palmer. "Some people don't know that practitioners like Dr. Palmer exist, or they have a hard time finding them."

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