July 01, 1997
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Self-focusing telescopic glasses give continuous, clear image

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — No longer do low vision patients need to fiddle with focus when wearing telescopic glasses. The innovative Ocutech VES Auto Focus Telescope is a high-tech spectacle that resembles a miniature camera mounted atop an almost standard pair of eyeglasses. The battery-powered, computer-controlled prescription device operates by reflecting an infrared beam off whatever the wearer looks at directly.

"It appears to help senior citizens with macular degeneration better than we would have expected," said coinventor Henry A. Greene, OD, vice president of Ocutech and a clinical associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine here.

Younger people born with congenital visual impairments have also benefited from the telescopic glasses.

"Low vision aids, while they are helpful, are not very user-friendly," noted Dr. Greene. "With our glasses, there is natural magnified vision because the image is always clear, which is not the case with manual-focus telescopes. As a result, adaptation in learning to use the device is greatly enhanced."

Dr. Greene, who has had success dispensing the glasses in patients ranging in age from 11 to 86, said the eye piece for the telescope is positioned directly above the line of sight of the eye using the telescope. "The infrared beam bounces off what the patient is looking at, then is received by a detector that forwards it to two different computers — one to determine the distance and one to operate the motor focusing mechanism."

Useful at intermediate range

The device samples the focus range 30 times per second. "It focuses immediately and continuously, anywhere from 12 inches to infinity," Dr. Greene said. The glasses are particularly useful at mid-range distance for arm length and tabletop activities.

"Until now, we haven't had any optical devices acceptable for this distance," he said. "The depth of field of telescopes at this distance is so shallow that if you move in or out even an inch or two the image immediately blurs."

Dr. Greene said one of his patients, a 78-year-old woman, after 1 month wearing the glasses, now plays bridge three times a week. And because the headborne unit only weighs 2½ oz., "Many patients can wear it all day," he said.

The device requires an external battery pack (placed in a pocket or clipped to a belt) that weighs about 4 oz. The monocular prescription device was developed over a 7-year period and was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Ontario (Canada) Ministry of Health.

Those with other disabilities benefit

Jane Sherman is sales manager of Ocutech Inc. in Chapel Hill. She estimates that as of June 1, about 130 patients, including patients from Scotland, England and Malaysia. Ocutech is the developer and manufacturer of the VES line of low vision products.

Ned S. Witkin, OD, director of the Vision Rehabilitation Service and assistant professor of ophthalmology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, said the self-focusing feature helps people with disabilities other than sight impairment, such as those with advanced diabetes or strokes. "These patients often have difficulty using their fingers for small movements," he said.

The intermediate range also assists workers who use a computer. Further, one of Dr. Witkin's older patients had a goal of playing bridge competitively. "Now she's back doing what she enjoys," he said.

The Ocutech telescope retails in the $3,000 range. Dr. Greene noted that practitioners should not be shy about offering the high-priced device. "Patients spend that kind of money on hearing aids and dental bridges," he explained. Dr. Greene and his colleagues are currently developing a binocular version.

For Your Information:

  • Henry A. Greene, OD, can be reached at (919) 493-7456; e-mail: hgreene115@aol.com.
  • Ned S. Witkin, OD, can be reached at (404) 778-5820; fax: (404) 778-2244; e-mail: nwitkin@emory.edu. Dr. Witkin has no direct financial interest in any of the products mentioned in this article, nor is he a paid consultant for any company mentioned.
  • Jane Sherman may be reached at Ocutech Inc.
  • Ocutech VES AutoFocus Telescope is available from Ocutech Inc., 143 West Franklin St., Suite 203, Chapel Hill, NC 27516; (800) 326-6460; fax: (919) 968-4601; home page: http://www.ocutech.com/.