Little-known Devices Restore Vision to People Who Can’t Be Helped by Regular Glasses

Key Takeaways

  • Bioptic telescopic glasses, which are like miniature binoculars or telescopes affixed to regular glasses, can improve visual function in some people who can’t be helped with traditional glasses.
  • They magnify images so that objects look bigger, closer and clearer, but may take time to get used to.

In July 2021, Dick Bramer, 76, suffered what doctors diagnosed as an ocular stroke (they said a small particle of plaque must have blocked blood flow to the optic nerve) in one eye. He already had lost vision in his other eye decades earlier, due to what doctors said was a swollen optic nerve.

After the stroke, everything was blurry. The Bramers looked everywhere for something that might help. Then a friend happened to tell them about Low Vision Restoration in Blaine, Minnesota. Optometrist Chris Palmer, who founded the clinic, prescribes devices that can help improve people’s vision when other glasses can’t. Palmer fitted Bramer with the devices, which are like miniature binoculars or telescopes affixed to regular glasses. Bramer tried them out and suddenly saw his wife clearly for the first time since the stroke.

The devices, called bioptic telescopic glasses, can help patients resume reading, recognizing faces across a room, watching TV, playing cards, in some cases even driving, Palmer said. Telescopic glasses are “basically binoculars” that affix to glasses and magnify images so that objects look bigger, closer and clearer, said Palmer, who has specialized in this area since 2008. “It’s like having a miniaturized telescope or binocular stuck right into a pair of glasses,” Palmer said. “They’re two individual eyepieces that you’re looking through.” Their positioning can be adjusted as needed. They resemble jewelers’ loupes.

Bioptic telescopes are helpful for people with eye conditions—including macular degeneration, ocular albinism, Stargardt disease, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and rod cone dystrophy—that can reduce vision to levels too low to benefit from regular glasses and contacts. The devices won’t help everybody with eye problems, Peterson noted, “but in many cases people can regain some level of independence, reading, the ability to perform tasks around the home,” he said.

Note that according to WebMD, it may take some time to get used to using bioptic telescopes. This is because viewing through the miniature magnifying system of the bioptics requires a specific movement that involves synchronization between your head and eye that’s known as a “vertical drop.” New users usually face two challenges. One is that you may have a sense that some objects in your visual field are moving even though they aren’t. The second is the disorientation caused by the moving objects in your field of vision when you look through the telescopes, which may take some getting used to. 


Katy Read, Star Tribune, Medical Xpress, February 20, 2024; see source article Venkat S.R., “What to know about driving with bioptic lenses.” WebMD, Jun 26, 2022; see WebMD article