Sunday, June 7, 2009

Page Magnifiers: Debunking the Myth

At least once a week, I encounter someone who is looking for "a large magnifier to lay over the newspaper" for ease of reading. Generally, this person is a Boomer son or daughter trying to help out mom or dad, or a loving adult grandchild who is on the hunt for products to get grandparents involved again. Occasionally, it is the individual him- or herself, struggling with the changes brought about by macular degeneration or some other condition that affects vision. They all want the page magnifier to do the trick.

The page magnifier is a useful tool, but only under certain circumstances. If you have generally good eyesight and are just at the early stages of "presbyopia," the natural aging of the eye muscles that causes many in their 40s and 50s to require reading glasses, a page magnifier may help deliver just enough magnification to ease the strain. However, because large-size page magnifiers are developed using the "fresnel" process, named for the French physicist and engineer, Augustin-Jean Fresnel, their ability to provide distortion-free viewing is compromised. Fresnel processing allows for the production of inexpensive lens or magnifying surfaces, stamped from sheets of transparent plastic. It offers an alternative to the complex and detailed work typically involved with grinding lenses for correction or magnification of eyesight.

The fresnel process does not use the mathematics of lens production either, which dictate that the greater the level of magnification, the smaller the lens. This phenomenon confounds and disappoints many who enjoy using handheld magnifiers, but just want one that has a bigger field. So, the request for something large that also magnifies to a greater degree is ubiquitous among older folks especially, but difficult to deliver in the world of good quality glass magnifiers. With Fresnel quality lenses, one can get the size and some level of magnification. That's the good news. The bad news is that there is often lots of distortion, causing for a blurred image. One has to be prepared to fiddle quite a bit with the magnifier, too, to alter the lighting and the distance to see clearly.

This solution is simply not the right one for those with macular degeneration or other conditions affecting vision. If eyesight is already compromised by one of these conditions, the eye's ability to adjust to distortions of any kind is extremely difficult.

So, while page magnifiers seem to hold the promise of a larger field of vision and greater levels of magnification, it is best to invest in a high quality magnifier or a video magnifier for better results. For example, this around the neck magnifier offers magnification at 2x, but a fairly large field of vision. With the correct lighting, it can be a terrific solution for reading the paper or a book. It is especially great for needlework, tying flies, examining coins, or any close work.
If you are in the greater Denver metro area, stop by our showroom and try out a selection of magnifiers to make the best choice for you. Our trained staff will work with you individually to be sure you are satisfied before you purchase.

What works for you? If you have low vision or know someone who does, sign up for our invitations to low vision seminars held regularly at Capabilities flagship location in the Denver metro area.


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