Driving With Stargardt’s Disease
Living with a disease that affects your eyesight, such as age-related macular degeneration, can feel devastating.
However, for children and young adults diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease, also known as juvenile macular degeneration, these changes can feel especially difficult and life-changing.
Many wonders if they will be able to participate in “normal” activities like their peers, such as reading or watching movies. Of course, when it comes to being independent, an even bigger question often crosses their mind: will I be able to drive?
That was the case for Sarah when she received her diagnosis of Stargardt’s disease. Let’s find out what helped get Sarah on the road.
First, what is Stargardt’s Disease?
Stargardt’s disease is a genetic eye condition leading to progressive central vision loss. Luckily, peripheral (side) vision is usually unaffected.
Most individuals are diagnosed before age twenty and symptoms can start developing as early as age six. Sarah was seventeen when she was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease.
What Are Some Symptoms of Stargardt’s Disease?
Imagine these three scenarios:
- You have always been a diligent student and work hard in school. Then, you start to have a little bit more trouble with your homework. You can’t see the words in your textbooks clearly, so reading becomes difficult. You also cannot see the board across the room like you once could.
- You regularly get lunch with a long-time friend. Over time, you’ve noticed that her facial features appear fuzzy. Then you start to see dark spots. With time it becomes harder to recognize your friend, and eventually even family members.
- You love spending time in the great outdoors. Some of your favorite activities are hiking, going to the beach, and playing soccer. But it becomes more challenging to enjoy these hobbies because your eyes are becoming lighter sensitive. When you try to spend more time inside, it is difficult to see well if the room is not well lit.
Symptoms of Stargardt’s Disease
Symptoms vary, but here are some common signs that people like Sarah will notice:
- Loss of central vision
- Blurry or wavy vision
- Dark spots and halos
- Challenges with reading
- Challenges seeing in dimly lit areas
- Challenges recognizing faces
- Difficulty seeing small details and objects in the distance
- Light sensitivity
- Loss of depth perception
- Decreased color perception
- Eventual status of legally blind
Bioptic Telescopic Lenses for Driving with Stargardt’s Disease
Sarah wanted to drive, but with her central vision getting worse, some obstacles stood in the way of being a safe driver.
She had concerns about seeing road signs in the distance, distinguishing when the traffic light was green, yellow, or red, and seeing other cars well enough to respond quickly to abrupt stops and lane changes.
Bioptic telescope glasses are one example of a low vision aid that helps people like Sarah who have severe vision loss.
Most individuals with low vision, including Stargardt’s disease, have some remaining vision. A low vision optometrist performs special tests to locate this residual vision and then makes custom glasses to maximize his or her sight.
Bioptic telescope glasses are made up of two parts. First, the main lenses of the glasses, which have the best possible prescription for seeing in the distance. Second, miniature telescopes which are mounted onto the distance lenses.
When Sarah drives while wearing her custom telescope glasses, she has clearer visual acuity when looking straight ahead. When she tips her nose down to look into the telescopes, the image ahead of her is magnified. She can see road signs, traffic lights, and other cars with ease.
When other requirements are met, California allows low vision individuals with Stargardt’s disease to drive with custom bioptic telescope lenses. Sarah is grateful that low vision aids help her live her best life and remain independent.