Not a good look

Around the time I turned 40 I started noticing that normal size print in books and magazines was becoming a little trickier to read; I had to hold things farther away from my face for the words to come into focus. Threading a needle became a hit-and-miss affair.

Difficult enough in broad daylight, romantic dinner dates took things to a whole new level. While candlelight has the wonderful ability to flatter and enchant, it also does a jolly good job of making the menu almost impossible to read.

Soon, I couldn’t tell my tofu from my tortellini

I headed off to my optometrist who tested my eyes and he confirmed that I have presbyopia, a condition that occurs when the lens inside the eye becomes less flexible with age, affecting the eye’s ability to focus. My distance vision was (and apparently still is) very good.

Presbyopia starts to affect most people between the ages of 40 and 60. I can confirm this stat because I have witnessed an entire table of my own friends using one poor soul’s glasses to read the menu in the absence of a pair of their own after the obligatory handbag-scrabble – I’m sure I’ve got a pair in here somewhere.

Readers to the rescue

I had one pair of glasses made up in a pair of gorgeous vintage frames, and because the eye test showed that both eyes needed the same prescription, my optometrist gave me the go-ahead to buy off-the-shelf readers if I felt I needed some spares.*

Readers are fantastic if you are, well…. reading. The minute you raise your head from the task at hand to look across the table, let alone get up and walk across the room, you have to either take them off or slide them down your nose to peer, Miss Trunchbull-like, over the top. (Not a good look, especially when on aforementioned romantic date.)

All that taking-them-off and putting-them-back-on-again leads to breakage, loss, and, more often than you’d imagine, to them being sat on. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation.

Back to my lovely optometrist to find out whether there were any other options that might work for me.

Two pairs of glasses in one

Bifocal and multifocal lenses are made with a combination of prescriptions in each lens, allowing the wearer to use one pair of glasses for different purposes/distances.

Bifocals lenses have two viewing areas divided by a visible line; the bottom area caters for close work and the top section for distance.

Multifocal or progressive lenses are made up of two or three different prescriptions in each lens, each section is graduated with no visible line.

I was hesitant to try a pair of multifocal glasses because these kinds of lenses are quite a bit more expensive than standard lenses, and I had heard horror stories from my friends about them being extremely difficult to get used to. One friend reported feeling so dizzy and nauseous that she had never been able to use hers.

With some persuasion from my optometrist, I took the leap. Because I only need glasses for close work, the bottom section of my lenses has a prescription that allows me to read, and the top section has no prescription. This means that I can keep them on while driving or going about my normal day-to-day activities.

I absolutely love my multifocal specs. They are the perfect solution for when I am out and about, walking, driving, or watching a movie, but still need the ability to see things at close quarters (phone, menu, money, price tags). The frames for my multifocal lenses are also vintage, and sometimes I just want to wear my lovely spectacles when I am out! It took me a day or two to get used to them, and now when I wear them I completely forget that they have different strengths in different sections, my eyes adjust automatically to the piece of the lens I need to use to get the right focus.

Contact lenses that do it all

Who knew that there are different types of contact lenses; monovision, bifocal and multifocal and that these work in much the same way as spectacle lenses, and that it is possible to use a combination of lens types to achieve the right solution for your needs?

Together, my optometrist and I found that the best solution for me is to wear a single monovision contact lens in my right eye which helps me with my close vision. Because I don’t need help with my distance vision, I don’t wear a lens in my left eye, so this eye manages distance. Crazy stuff! (If I did need help with distance, it is possible that I could wear a lens with a different script in my other eye.)

I love that the lens gives me the freedom not to have to wear glasses, and there is no more taking-on and taking-off which drove me nuts! Putting the lens in and taking it out took some getting used to and required quite a bit of perseverance and practice, but it was well worth the effort.

What works for me:

  • Reading glasses for when I am in one place reading/sewing etc. These are comfortable and most effective for close work. My favourites are a vintage pair that I had made up to my prescription.
  • Multifocal glasses for when I am on the move but still need to be able to read and see some detail at close quarters. (The top of these lenses have no script so I can wear them when I’m driving.) I got used to these pretty quickly and didn’t experience headaches or dizziness.
  • A single contact lens worn in one eye when I am out and about, but still need to be able to read or see things up close…. and don’t feel like wearing glasses. (How clever is that though!)
  • A lorgnette worn on a long silver chain around my neck, through which I can peer to read the odd thing. I love wearing this to events like art exhibitions to add a bit of interest and slight eccentricity to my outfit.

*Check with your optometrist to make sure what is best for you and your eyes. Presbyopia does progress, so it is a good idea to have your eyes checked at least every two years to make sure that you are using the correct prescription.

My lovely optometrist is Alon Abadi at BluBird Optical in the BluBird Centre in Birnam, Johannesburg. They have a great range of designer frames and a fabulous selection of sunglasses.

Featured image selfie by Deborah Darling
Vintage frames from BluBird Optical