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Meet a Specialist: Mary Lou Jackson, MD, FCRS

As the Director of the Vision Rehabilitation Service at Mass. Eye and Ear, Mary Lou Jackson, MD, FCRS, is leading the development of one of the nation’s most comprehensive vision rehabilitation clinics. Originally from Canada, Dr. Jackson joined the Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmology in 2006, and today she is an Assistant Professor.

Patients come to Dr. Jackson with a range of eye diseases and disorders, including macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. “Often there’s been what the patient perceives as a lot of bad news by the time they come to our office. They have lost vision. It’s difficult,” Dr. Jackson explains. “But once we explain some of the adaptive devices available, and how we can help them use their remaining vision, many patients tell us they are encouraged by this positive news. From there, we can help each person identify his or her own goals and begin to move forward.”

The Vision Rehabilitation Service relies on a five-point “whole person” approach, addressing reading, daily living activities, patient safety, participation in one’s family and community, and psychosocial well-being. This approach, developed by Dr. Jackson, is now part of the American Academy of Ophthalmology's guidelines for Vision Rehabilitation. With a clinical team of experts in ophthalmology, optometry, social work and occupational therapy, the Service is well positioned to help patients utilize their remaining vision and maximize their quality of life.

Dr. Jackson and her team provide patients of all ages, including children, with a comprehensive vision assessment that includes evaluation of visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and visual field. Detection of residual visual function is critical for vision rehabilitation. Dr. Jackson uses macular perimetry testing to examine the central visual field and create a high-resolution map of the retina and functioning vision areas. This resource enables the staff to assist patients to use remaining vision for activities such as reading. Mass. Eye and Ear is home to one of the few Scanning Laser Ophthalmoscopes in the New England area used for macular perimetry testing.

Under Dr. Jackson’s direction, the clinic also provides patients with access to adaptive devices, computer and software enhancements, and home visits to address safety and independence in completing daily tasks. Dr. Jackson notes that patients with low vision often have difficulty reading medication labels and this can lead to potentially harmful errors. Magnification devices or clearer labeling can help address this risk.

One of Dr. Jackson’s greatest joys is in motivating her patients to rekindle their dreams. In particular, one of her patients lost his vision and was pondering his future in the absence his previous employment. In talking with Dr. Jackson, he realized that one of his unrealized dreams was to become a writer. “Today, he’s writing a novel, and he’s very happy,” she recalls. “Every person must find his or her own way – and we do what we can to help them discover that path.”

Nationally recognized by her colleagues, Dr. Jackson has chaired the American Association of Ophthalmology’s Vision Rehabilitation Committee and has led the development of a national vision rehabilitation curriculum for ophthalmology residents. She also mentors first-year residents during their rotation in the Mass. Eye and Ear Vision Rehabilitation Center.

In addition to providing exceptional patient care and mentoring residents, Dr. Jackson also conducts research, specifically on Charles Bonnet Syndrome. Notably, she has found that recurrent visual hallucinations are reported by roughly a quarter to one-third of all patients who come to Vision Rehabilitation. “Those who’ve seen faces, or patterns, or whatever their hallucination may be, are relieved to find out that this is not a form of mental incompetence,” she explains. “It’s a common brain reaction to vision loss. By studying it, we’ll learn more about how the brain really works.”

Contact Dr. Jackson’s office at 617-573-4177.

View Dr. Gardiner’s online bio for more information.

Request an appointment.