The Unexpected Health Benefit Of…Your iPad

Have eye or vision problems? Trouble reading? Studies show that tablets could be just the tool you need to getting reading fast and efficiently again.

Researchers at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School report at the American Academy of Ophthalmology annual meeting in Chicago that digital tablets like iPads and Kindles improved reading speeds in patients with low vision.

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Conditions such as macular degeneration and vision problems due to diabetes can damage light-sensitive cells in the eye’s retina, which in turn compromises central vision. The retina, located in the back of the eye, processes light and images into nerve signals that are sent to the brain.

Damage to the retina, and in particular to the macular, or central portion, makes it difficult to decipher details and distinguish words on a page, and in most cases, ophthalmologists suggested that these patients use reading aids like expensive and bulky magnifiers with attached lights to ease reading tasks.

Backlit Tablets

The study was made up of two experiments. In the first, 62 people read three articles from The New York Times in the print version of the newspaper, as computer printouts, and on an Apple iPad 2.

More than half of those in the study had evidence of macular eye disease. The macula is the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail.

According to the findings, readers read faster on the iPad 2 than the newspaper or printed article. This improvement was most pronounced among people who had low vision in both eyes.

In the second experiment, 100 people read a book chapter in these ways:

  1. In a “real” book
  2. On an iPad 2 with 12-point and 18-point fonts
  3. On an Amazon Kindle with 12-point or 18-point fonts

The iPad was set at maximum background brightness. The Kindle used in the new study did not have a backlight, although the new Kindle Fire does come with one.

The people in the study all read faster on the iPad 2 than on the Kindle. The gap widened when the iPad font was magnified to 18 points.

People read 42 more words per minute on average with the iPad 2 on 18-point font compared to the book. By contrast, a 12 word-per-minute gain was seen among those reading on the Kindle in the same font.

The backlight boosts contrast sensitivity or the ability to see an object stand out from its background. Many people with low vision lose this ability.

Aging baby boomers with vision issues are likely pretty tech-savvy, and these tablets are very user-friendly. iPads can benefit most everyone with low vision, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic eye disease.