iPads are not just cool, they also can help some with AMD keep in touch with the world

my mom with AMD using her iPad
my mom with AMD using her iPad
Mom using her iPad

Since my mother developed age-related macular degeneration (AMD), she has been trying everything to see. A $3,000 plus reading machine did not help her. In fact, she’s tried two of them. Handheld magnifiers help a bit, but can be exhausting. But one day we were sitting on the couch and she saw my iPhone.  She asked what it was and I told her it was my iPhone. I showed it to her, not really expecting that she’d be able to see it, but I thought she’d get a kick out of Siri. All of a sudden she said, “Why can I see this?”

 “If you can see this, you can probably see my iPad,”  I said.

I ran and got my iPad and she was in heaven.  Within a week we were at the Apple store buying her one. She can play solitaire, get her email, watch Netflix, keep track of her stock and watch her news stations and cable shows. Is it perfect? No, it’s not. But it is better than nearly anything else she’s tried, and unlike just helping her read documents, the iPad keeps her in touch with the world.

I wasn’t sure if this was an anomaly or not until I heard about a recent study presented as a poster at the  American Academy of Ophthalmology’s 2012 meeting that showed that backlit devices such as the iPad helped people with moderate vision loss such as age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) read more easily and comfortably.

When my mother’s macular degeneration got worse, she struggled to read and was always upset to sound like a 6-year-old slowly trying to sound out the words. This is because with ARMD you don’t see the full word and your eyes don’t track ahead the way they used to when you could see.

The study “Electronic Reading Devices Increase Reading Speed and Comfort in Patients with Moderate Vision Loss”* by Daniel B. Roth et al had two purposes. One to determine if back lit devices such as the iPad2 helped people with compromised visual acuity read faster and with more comfort than from a print document and two, how an iPad2 compared to a non-backlit Kindle. (The Kindle Fire was not assessed).

The patients in the study were divided into two groups:  “Part A,” was asked to read a 10 point font-sized article from the New York Times and was randomly assigned to a print version, an online version or an iPad version. The reading speed was calculated in words per minute (WPM) for two minutes.

The second group, “Part B” was randomly assigned to read five different chapters from a text using either an Apply iPad2 at 12 point font; Apple iPad2 at 18 point font, Amazon Kindle at 12 point font and Amazon Kindle at 18 point font. Again, reading speed was calculated at WPM for 1 minute.

In both groups reading speed was correlated with visual acuity, the present or absence of macular disease and the specific type of macular disease.

The authors concluded the following:

  • Back illuminated devices, such as the iPad, increase patient reading speed.
  • This improvement was greatest among patients with worse visual acuity
  • Patient reading speed was significantly increased when reading on the iPad2 (128 WPM), as compared with newspaper (114 WPM) or printed material (118 WPM).
  • Patient reading speech was significantly increased when reading on the iPad2 compared to the Amazon Kindle, an electronic reading device that is not back-illuminated, or a book. 
  • Reach speed was further increased when magnifying the font on the iPad2. 

This study corroborates what my mom has already learned.  The reading machines, which simply magnify paper, also magnify the flaws in the printed material whereas an electronic device such as an iPad illuminate and clarify the words. In my next blog, I will discuss some apps for iPhone and iPad that may further help those with visual impairment.

The authors of the study, Daniel b Roth, Henry L. Feng, Kunjal K. Modi, Howard F. Fine, and Jonathan L Prenner are from the Retina Vitreous Center – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, NJ. They state they do not have any financial interest in the subject matter of the presentation. 

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