A submitted column on how to properly care for patients suffering from vision loss from the founder and medical director of Focus Clinics in London.
David Allamby, FRCS(Ed), FRCOphth
An estimated 39 million people around the world are blind, according to the Royal Institute of Blind People (RNIB), with a further 246 million people suffering from partial sightedness. In the UK alone, there are around 350,000 people registered blind or partially sighted.
The Macular Society, a macular disease charity, states that almost 1.5 million people in the UK are affected by macular disease; the nation’s biggest cause of sight loss.
In 2014/15 alone, there were 396,180 cataract surgeries performed in the UK, according to The Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth), not surprising given the UK’s aging population.
There are a plethora of eye conditions affecting significant swathes of society and, as people live longer, understanding how to care for individuals with sight loss is becoming increasingly important.
The sudden loss of one’s sight can be a traumatic and difficult experience, but it’s important to understand that help is available. It is undoubtedly going to take time for people experiencing sudden sight loss to adjust. Ensuring that appropriate help and support is available is essential. This can take many forms, from family members to trained care personnel.
That being said, there are a number of chronic eye health conditions that deteriorate an individual’s vision over time. While not as sudden, this type of sight loss can have just as much impact on a person's daily life, health, and wellbeing. Again, gaining access to correct and timely treatment, as well as a range of support can offer huge comfort and relief, and can greatly improve overall quality of life.
There are a number of basic steps someone can take to help care for someone who is suffering from vision loss.It’s always important to ensure that someone who requires care due to impaired or lost vision is someone who is already vulnerable and may be feeling uncomfortable with their situation and surroundings. Maintaining their dignity and respect should always remain the number one priority.It’ll come as no surprise that individual safety is a major concern for individuals suffering from progressively worsening, impaired vision, and their families. Once simple tasks, such as navigating the home, may become more difficult and inherently riskier. Always remain mindful of hazards both in and outside of the home, and try to ensure that they’re minimized, where possible. Reduce clutter, poor lighting, changes in floor surfaces, and ensure walkways remain clear. Generally, try to maintain good housekeeping.Encouraging independence in individuals suffering from vision loss can, over time, significantly improve their confidence, mobility, and quality of life. Try to bear this in mind during the start of their journey and, where possible, encourage independence early on.To try and promote independence from the outset, it may be necessary to make physical changes to the individual’s environment. This will also reduce the risk of hazards arising and will generally make their environment a safe place. While some adjustments may be necessary to improve comfort and confidence, it’s also important to note that familiarization of one’s surroundings is just as important. Where possible, try to ensure that environments remain relatively unchanged and familiar.If you’re suffering with vision loss or know someone who is, and would like more advice, the RNIB Sight Loss Advice Service can give you practical and emotional support.
Losing your sight or caring for someone is, can be an extremely difficult experience for all involved. One of the most important things you can do is ensure that you’re fully informed and have access to all of the help and support available to you. The tips in this article should help, however, I’d always recommend that people affected by sight loss obtain the advice of their certified medical professional, who can signpost to relevant services.
David Allamby, FRCS(Ed), FRCOphth, is the founder and Medical Director of Focus Clinics, a laser eye surgery based in London. A passionate Ophthalmologist, he is one of a limited number of UK surgeons who work in laser refractive surgery full-time.