Variable Vision: Latest bifocal technology uses layer of liquid crystals

Variable Vision: Latest bifocal technology uses layer of liquid crystals

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Bifocal glasses have come a long way since Benjamin Franklin first invented them more than 200 years ago.

Line, no line (progressive) and contact lens options have been available for years, but the latest innovation offers even more for bifocal wearers.

“It’s pretty neat,” said Dr. Jill Pownell, an optometrist at Korthals & Associates, Mason City.

The new eyewear, under the brand of emPower!, uses an invisible layer of liquid crystals to sense when its wearer is looking down.

Pownell compared the technology to when a smartphone senses being turned on its side and changes the orientation of the screen.

When looking down, the glasses switch to the reading zone/near-vision and then distance vision when not looking down.

The near-vision part can also be activated by swiping a certain area on the frames. It can then be turned off the same way.

Pownell said the glasses are especially helpful when walking down the stairs and in other instances. Having one vision or the other helps eliminate the distortion or blurriness line or no line bifocals sometimes creates.

“This is kind of the way things are going with the technology,” she said.

The glasses also include a no-glare coating and a charger that people can use to charge the glasses while sleeping. A typical charge lasts 2-3 days, Pownell said.

While emPower! eyewear might be appealing to bifocal wearers, the price might cause them to hesitate, Pownell said.

One pair costs approximately $1,200, she said.

Pownell said she expects the price to go down as the novelty of the glasses wears off and the technology becomes more common.

In the meantime, if someone isn’t ready to spend $1,200 on bifocal glasses, other options include contacts, line and no line (progressive).

Lined bifocal glasses include distance sight on top and then near-vision on the bottom. A line clearly defines where each vision begins and ends.

No line is similar except the vision is progressive, with an intermediate vision in the middle, Pownell said.

Dr. Kent Juffer, an optometrist at the North Iowa Eye Clinic, Mason City, said the latest progressive glasses are called digital back surface.

“That’s a lens where the surface is computer generated,” he said. “It’s grounded in such a way it allows for a wider transition zone. There’s more usable area in the reading area and less distortion in peripheral vision.”

“That’s always been the problem with progressive lenses,” he added. “If you’re looking peripherally things can be distorted.”

Bifocal contacts work in a way similar to progressive lenses.

With all three options today’s technology allows a person’s prescription to be more exact.

One machine takes a picture of a person wearing glasses and determines where the pupil and other aspects of the eye are. The results can then be used to place the near and distance vision where they would work best and is helpful because no one’s eyes are perfectly symmetrical, Pownell said.

Today’s technology also allows optometrists to get prescriptions down to 0.01 diopters. Before it could only go down to 0.25, Pownell said.

“It gets it a lot more precise,” she said.

For more information about bifocal options talk to your optometrist.

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