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Home > Articles > Handbell Ringing and Vision After 40

Handbell Ringing and Vision After 40
Vicky Johns Vandervort, OD


Most people are aware of the vision problems that begin to creep up n them sometime between the ages of 40 and 45 years of age. The telephone book print seems too small. The restaurant lighting is too dim to read the menu. Your arms aren't long enough to see the newspaper clearly.

Many are not aware that the spectacles they choose to correct their near vision problems may wreak havoc on their handbell ringing. Perhaps a short explanation of what is happening physiologically would be helpful in understanding the problem. There is a muscle that changes the shape of the crystalline lens inside the eye, keeping the objects we view in focus, regardless of the distance from our eye. With advancing age, this crystalline lens stiffens and the muscle has an increasingly more difficult time making the lens bend to focus on objects that are close to our eyes. By age 40, many people (with proper correction for distance) are unable to focus on objects within 12-14 inches. As we age, the lens continues to stiffen, and clear focus of near objects recedes.

Around age 50, that difficulty in focusing has reached what is termed the "intermediate range." This is just beyond arms reach as in computer screens and music scores. Objects in the intermediate range are not clear enough through the top portion of the lens or the bifocal segment. Through the top portion of the lens, the eye cannot accommodate or focus enough because of stiffening. Through the bottom portion of the lens, the focal point is set (by laws of physics) for a certain distance: the near point. Objects outside the range of that near point become blurry. This change is something that happens so gradually that most people are unaware of the compensations they begin to make to see their music more clearly.

What we see as handbell directors are these signs: 1) a ringer alternating between a chin-up posture (leaning in to view the music through the bifocal segment) and a backing away from the music (trying to view it through the top segment); 2) ringers requesting better lighting; 3) disagreement about folder placement if an older ringer is paired with a younger ringer; 4) more missed or wrong notes than expected.

This visual problem is easily solved with a special pair of glasses just for handbell ringing. All a ringer needs to do is take a few easy measurements to their eye doctor. As a handbell director, you can be of assistance by telling them about this and helping get the necessary information.

Have the ringer stand in their normal ringing position with their music folder in the desired location. Measure the distance from the ringer's eyes to their music. This can be in inches or centimeters. Have them tell their eye doctor that they need clear vision at that specific distance through the BOTTOM segment of their bifocals. Their doctor will perform a mathematical equation to determine the power of bifocal needed. They will have their normal distance prescription in the top segment.

The type of bifocal style used is critical. A ST35 or FT35 is the optimum. This provides a large segment so that the entire folder is clear. Smaller segments can be inhibiting. "No-Line" bifocals are great for their good looks, but they are just as big a problem as regular bifocals because every time the ringer moves his or her head, they must relocate the part of the segment that affords clear vision again. Avoid multi-focal or no-line bifocals. Single vision glasses that are focused for the music only are not ideal because then the director is blurred.

The top of the bifocal segment must be placed MID-PUPIL. This is the part of the prescription that most doctors and opticians will not understand because it is much higher than bifocals are commonly placed. However, this high placement will enable the ringer to stand with a slightly chin-down head position, see their music and bells through the bottom segment clearly; and then, look up and see you, the director, clearly.

I have placed all my presbyopes (i.e. old eyes) in this lens design and have found it a great improvement to their self-confidence and ringing ability. Though this hint may not make them level five ringers, it will remove an unnecessary road block that may enable them to reach a higher level than even they thought possible.

Dr. Vicky Vandervort is an optometrist practicing in Omaha, Nebraska. She has enjoyed directing the Joyful Noise Handbell Choir at St. Mark Lutheran Church for several years.

Vibrations, Spring 1998