What are the Magnifier Choices for Reading?

My mother’s eyes actually got better as she got older. That is one of those weird things that happens sometimes when you are eyes have been pretty bad over most of your life. My aunt, though, was used to reading a book a day. When her eyes gave out, she was in grief. My cousins got her books on tape, and a digital reader. Both of these helped her read.

A hands-free lighted magnifier allows you to hold the book while getting magnification and light for reading. Both floor stand and desktop lighted magnifiers help, which one is best depends on where you are doing your reading. You can also use reading glasses, various types of hand-held magnifiers, and digital magnifiers. Finally, you can use a computer tablet with a large display, and use the font accessbility feature to make the book easier to see.

To help me read, I use all of these:

  • floor stand magnifier
  • reading glasses
  • magnifying glass
  • ebook (computer tablets)

The magnifier helps when you’re at a desk, in the kitchen, any place you always need a light and magnification. The reading glasses are for the store. I have a magnifying glass in the kitchen drawer in case I just need a really quick magnification for a product label or cooking directions.

The Best Features of the Best Lighted Magnifiers

The elderly often need greater magnification and more light to read than younger people do. All magnifiers increase word size. The best magnification system for reading properly lights the page as well.

Good magnifying glass should:

  • have a glare-free coating
  • be scratch resistant
  • have a magnfication factor appropriate for the user’s eyesight

The Types of Reading Magnifiers fo Elderly Readers

  • Lighted magnifiers are similar to floor and desktop lamps. They are adjustable and in addition to light, they have a magnifying glass to put between you and the reading material.
  • A magnifying glass is a handheld glass that can include an LED light.
  • Reading glasses are wearable magnifiers.  You can get reading glasses with built in lights. They are dorky. I know this because I bought a pair and used it in a restaurant to read the menu. I got a look at myself in a reflection and burst out laughing. I looked like I had on part of a super hero costume.
  • A dome magnifier sits on the printed material. You need to be at the right angle to see the magnified print.
  • A bar magnifier (which often comes with guidelines) also sits on the printed material. It’s designed for engineering professions but can be helpful for line-by-line readers as well.
  • A table-top manifier is like a desktop lighted magnifier except it’s not as flexible. It has a fixed top and you have to get your eyes over this to view the magnified material.
  • Magnifying goggles are a head-held device that put goggles between you and the material to magnify. They’re popular with jewelers.
  • A digital magnfier uses video technology to project an enlarged image onto a small screen attached to the device.

The Pros and Cons of Reading Glasses for Elderly Readers

Kate Spade reading glasses
Kate Spade reading glasses

Reading glasses are a simple choice but are not usually lighted. You supply the light from a lamp rather than getting it from the glasses.

Reading glasses do not require an eye doctor visit. They are cost effective, and there is no technology to learn. While there is nothing to plug into the wall, some reading glasses now come with battery-powered lights. Reading glasses are hands-free magnification, and they are portable.

You can get non-prescription reading glasses in strengths from 1.0 to 4.0 magnifications. The test to determine which power to get is to look at a sheet of small to large type. Without glasses, hold the sheet 14 inches from your eyes. Find the smallest line that is comfortable to read. That line will give you the power you should get in reading glasses.

I would like to add that 14 inches makes sense if you read with material 14 inches away. We are not going to start new reading habits at 85 years old, so take the test at the distance you normally hold reading material.

One reading glasses company makes something called “magnetic executive” glasses. They hang around the neck. To put them on, connect the left and right eyes. The magnet holds them together. To take them off, pull the eyes to each side. They hang around the neck when not in use. These glasses are good for people who are always putting on and taking off their glasses.

Two products will turn regular sunglasses into reading glasses. You can use clip-on lenses that attach to the sunglass bridge. In addition, you can use stick-on lenses, to turn a pair of sunglasses into reading bifocals.

Most clip-ons are lightweight. Look for non-glare as well. This is a cost effective way to get reading glasses from sunglasses.

The stick-ons are surprisingly effective plastic half-lenses that you apply when wet. You can take them off, and put them on other glasses if you like.

Then there are clip-ons to turn reading glasses into sunglasses.

These clip-on lenses will be typical sunglass brown, or a “blue blocking” amber. If your patient has insomnia, blue blocking might help. The blue lights from computers and devices can disrupt the melatonin release at night. Blue blocking glasses or reading glasses clip-ons can prevent the blue light from reaching the brain. If you try these and the patient sleeps better, you know that there was a blue light problem messing with her melatonin release.

The Pros and Cons of Hand-Held Magnifiers for Elderly Readers

Hand held magnifying glass
Hand held magnifying glass

Magnifying glasses are convenient and portable. Even with built-in lights, hand-held magnifiers are cost effective. As with reading glasses, you can leave magnifying glasses in key spots around the house.

Many people prefer hands-free magnification, but not everyone. I have actually found myself enjoying using a hand-held magnifier to read the newspaper. Not every time. Sometimes I get a little seasick, too. I can see the inconvenience really piling up when you are using the glass to do a crossword puzzle. You would have to hold the puzzle, the pencil and the magnifier all at once. A hand-held magnification for reading and doing the puzzle will work better.

Then there is the weight. If your patient is strong enough to hold the glass and manage the reading material, she might prefer this way of reading. However, if the magnifier is too heavy, then she is not going to use it to read.

Battery-operated magnifying glasses will light the material with LED lights. The batteries add a little bit of weight.

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It is less important to get the exact right magnifying power with a handheld magnifying glass as it is with reading glasses. The reader can move her hand closer to and further away from the reading material to adjust the magnification.

The glass size and shape will determine how much you have to use your hand to use the magnifier. A rectangular magnifying glass works better for reading than a round glass. A larger glass covers more area than a smaller one.

The Pros and Cons of Page Magnifiers for Elderly Readers

Page magnifier
Page magnifier

A page magnifier sits over or right on top of the reading matter. The reading matter sits on the table, and the page magnifier sits above it. Alternatively, some page magnifiers sit around the neck, so that the reader can hold the book in her hands. Hanging the magnifier around the neck might not work with some patients who will either not like or not be strong enough to carry it.

If large enough, the page magnifier will magnify the entire page. Otherwise, you must move the magnifier to read. The size you need depends on the size of the reading material.

Page magnifiers often come with built-in lighting. If the magnifier does not have lights, you have to consider increasing the reading light for the patient as well.

Page magnifiers are best at lighting one page at a time. They ones that sit around and on top of the reading material make it easier to turn the page. Otherwise, you will have to lift the page magnifier to turn the page.

The Pros and Cons of Dome Magnifiers for Elderly Readers

Dome magnifier on a narrow width bible excerpt
Dome magnifier on a narrow width bible excerpt

Dome magnifiers look like paperweights.

Dome magnifier on a map
Dome magnifier on a map

They are a cross between a hand-held magnifier and a page magnifier. You do not hold it in your hand, but you do push it around with your hand to magnify different areas of the page. Dome magnifiers are small. They magnify only the area underneath them. Despite the disadvantages, they are very popular.

Sometimes dome magnifiers make me seasick
Sometimes dome magnifiers make me seasick

There is just something peaceful about pushing a dome magnifier across or down a page. They are nice to hold, for some reason, they can feel comforting. Perhaps for the same reason that snow globes are popular.

Some dome magnifiers come with lights. If yours does not have built-in lights, consider getting more light to the reading area. The batteries will add a small amount to the magnifier’s weight.

The Pros and Cons of Floor Stand Magnifiers for Elderly Readers

Brightec Lightview Pro floor stand magnifier with light
Brightec Lightview Pro floor stand magnifier with light

Stand magnifiers combine many of the best advantages of the other magnifying solutions. Stand magnifiers are also known as floor lamp magnifiers, and desktop magnifiers. They are an affordable luxury useful for much more than reading.

A stand magnifier helps you to see fine print, drawing, puzzles, knitting, small electronic devices, sewing, beading arts, and craft work. I like stand magnifiers so much because you do not have to hold or wear them, but they still provide hands-free magnification.

They are adjustable by moving the gooseneck that connects the base to the magnifier. A floor stand magnifier sits in a heavy base to ensure it does not tip over.

Brightec Lightview Pro floor stand magnifier
Brightec Lightview Pro floor stand magnifier

A desk magnifier either sits in a heavy base or clips strongly to the side of a table. You want the base anchored because the neck and lamp can move away from center. Most stand magnifiers I have seen include lighting. Add extra room lighting if the magnifier does not have its own lights.

The Pros and Cons of Digital Magnifiers for Elderly Readers

Digital hand held magnifier
Digital hand held magnifier

The prices have really come down on digital magnifiers since my cousins bought one for my aunt years ago. A digital magnifier uses a camera to read the print, and then projects a larger image of that print onto a screen. The screen can be part of the magnifier or an external screen such as a TV set.

Some readers have a camera stand so that you do not have to hold the device. However, with smaller readers, you push them around the page. Larger hand-held readers capture a much bigger area so there is less movement you need to do. Digital readers are self-lit. The TV provides light, or the unit is back lit.

Digital table top magnifier
Digital table top magnifier

Batteries, USB or electrical power these magnifiers. For the TV output, you plug the reader’s video cable into the TV to transmit the data from the camera to the TV. The magnification in a TV digital reader can be enormous.

The Carson ezRead Digital Magnifier will output words 19.5x larger than the original if cast to a 46 in. TV. Newer digital readers look like computer tablets or phones. They can record a snapshot of a page. You can change the colors to create a high-contrast viewing screen. They allow you to brighten and dim the screen.

People with macular degeneration and other very low-vision problems can greatly magnify words onto the screen. Digital readers are great for people with the worst vision problems.

The hand-held models do require some dexterity, which elder people might t not have. Get the camera stand for patients who have difficulty moving the camera over the reading material.

The Pros and Cons of Bar Magnifiers for Elderly Readers

Magnifying bar
Magnifying bar

A bar magnifier is a hand-held glass with an internal guidelines for reading line-by-line. It looks like a long paperweight. People who need to reed row-by-row data such as spreadsheets rave about bar magnifiers. They are also good for proof reading. The guideline makes it easy to read across a row.

Bar magnifiers usually do not include lights. They are hand-held and require you to move them as you read new material. However, people who need help reading down the page swear by these simple magnifiers to help them more easily read the rows on the page.

The Pros and Cons of Headband Goggle Magnifiers for Elderly Reading

Headband goggle magnifier
Headband goggle magnifier

A headband magnifier is a set of magnifying glass goggles. You wear them like glasses, but they’re much larger. The two most important factors in assessing goggle readers are weight and magnification.

Because they’re bulky, headband goggles can get uncomfortable. If the goggles are also heavy, they’re going to bother your face and head. Heavy goggles are more likely to be uncomfortable.

The magnification is important because the goggle glass is hard to adjust.  Often this type of magnifier comes with multiple glasses. Each glass has a different magnifying power. With this type of system, you’re not going to adjust the magnification on the fly. You take the headband off to change the magnification glass. So if you’re switching between target objects, the headband will get annoying.

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The advantage of a headband magnifier is that it’s hands free.  You can use both hands, because neither is adjusting or holding the magnifier.

The Magnifier I’d Get for My Mom

The magnifying reader I'd get my mom
The magnifying reader I’d get my mom

Easily my favorite elderly reading magnifier is the floor stand magnifier.

It is a hands-free magnifier. You do not have to wear it or attach it to yourself. These types of magnifiers usually come with built-in lighting.

They are adjustable by moving the gooseneck that attaches from the base to the magnifier. You can use a floor stand or a desktop type of stand magnifier to read with both hands, since your hands are free to turn the pages.

This type of magnifier is also perfect for doing crafts such as sewing, knitting, and for doing puzzles.

Related Questions

What is a diopter? A diopter is a unit of magnification.  When you a magnifier is so many diopters, you can translate that into percentage magnification with a simple formula.


If the diopter is 3, for example, then the magnification is 1.75.

(DIOPTER / 4) + 1


(3/4) + 1


Which Kindle e-Reader is Best for the Elderly Reader?  An e-reader is either a computer tablet or a dedicated tablet just for reading. I love the Kindle Oasis for senior readers because the Paperwhite technology is easy to view.

Read more about the best e-reader choices here on Senior Home Central (The Best Book Reader for Seniors Needing Large Print).




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