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Digital Tablets Help Readers With Vision Loss

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In the ongoing debate about how digital devices, lines are often drawn between younger and older. But a new report dispels the accusation that digital devices will ruin your eyes by showing that people with some eye diseases can read more quickly and comfortably by using tablets like the iPad.

"Reading is a simple pleasure that we often take for granted until vision loss makes it difficult," said Daniel Roth, M.D., an associate clinical professor at Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine who led of the study. "Our findings show that at a relatively low cost, digital tablets can improve the lives of people with vision loss and help them reconnect with the larger world."

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People with moderate vision loss could increase their reading speed by 15 words-per-minute, on average. A tablet with a back-lit screen resulted in the fastest reading speeds for all study participants, no matter what their vision.

One hundred participants gained at least 42 words-per-minute (WPM) when using an iPad™ on the 18-point font setting, compared with reading a print book or newspaper. A more modest gain of 12 WPM, on average, was achieved by all subjects when using the Kindle™ tablet set to 18-point font. Patients with the poorest vision − defined as 20/40 or worse in both eyes− showed the most improvement in speed when using an iPad or Kindle, compared with print.

The iPad's back-illuminated screen is the key to faster reading by patients with moderate vision loss, researchers said. Loss of contrast sensitivity -- being able see an object distinctly from its background and discern shades of gray -- is common in people with low vision. The improved contrast by a back-lit screen is huge for people with low vision. The original Kindle, which used in this study, does not have a back-lit screen.

Interestingly, people with the worst vision found the iPad most comfortable, while those with the best vision preferred print. This information will be useful to ophthalmologists in advising patients with various degrees of vision loss.

Eye diseases like macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy can cause loss of central vision affecting millions of people. Before digital tablets came along, reading aids were limited to lighted magnifiers, which are cumbersome and inconvenient by comparison.

The research was presented at the 116th annual American Academy of Ophthalmology meeting, jointly conducted this year with the Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology. The study was conducted at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey.

"Digital Tablets Help Readers with Vision Loss" first appeared on Everyday Health.

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