Introduction to Vision Impairment and Eye Health

Vision Impairment is one of the commonest forms of disability in the UK.There are around 2 million people in the UK with sight loss, however this figure is forecast to double by the year 2050 to 4 million.  Three quarters of whom are aged over 65 years of age.  Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK with an estimated 600,000 people having the condition.   Around two-thirds of people with a vision impairment are women, due to longer life expectancy of women over men and that many eye conditions are age related.  It is estimated that there are around 25,000 children with a sight loss / vision impairment in the UK, and it is also thought that there are about 20,000-25,000 people who use braille.  Unemployment is a big issue, with an estimated 70% of people with a vision impairment of working age being unemployed.People may experience sight loss for many different reasons:  age related sight loss, congenital (hereditary) sight loss, trauma/accidents and acquired brain injury.  Around 1 out of 5 people will experience some form of sight loss during their lifetime.  Some specific ‘groups’ of people may also experience sight loss, for example people have diabetes, learning disabilities, dementia, or had a stroke.

Individual experiences of living with a vision impairment and sight loss will vary dramatically from person to person, even for those who have the same eye condition, and would include who where born with a visual impairment and those who develop sight loss later in life.  Some people adjust and manage their sight loss well, whilst other people may find similar tasks and activities more difficult.  Opinions about services, equipment, coping strategies and life skills will encompass a wide range of ideas and views, depending on an individual perspective.

Description of vision impairment – visual impairment can be described as any form or level of sight loss (including total blindness) or eye condition that can cause difficulties and problems for people in undertaking activities of daily living (ADL), or for getting about safely both indoors and outdoors.  This loss of vision may cause of loss of independence, and affect quality of life.

if you wear spectacles (glasses) to correct vision back to a ‘normal’ level of vision, you have what is known as a refractive error (blurry or out of focus vision), and therefore are not considered to be vision impaired.  Vision is always measured and judged on the best eye (out of the two), when you are wearing your spectacles or contact lenses.  Technically you can be blind in one eye, and have perfect sight in the other, and you will not be considered to have a visual impairment.  Many people wear their spectacles for reading (especially true for people who are aged over 50), and other people say they need spectacles for ‘driving only’.  Without their spectacles these people may experience blurry vision, but when wearing their spectacles their vision is sharp and clear again.  Your optician will advise you on why and when you need to wear your spectacles.

It is vitally important that everyone has a sight test at the Opticians on a regular basis eg. every 2 years even if you do not wear spectacles (glasses).  This is because a sight test checks the health of the eye and can diagnose any eye conditions or problems very early and quickly, allowing for any treatment to take place to save sight.

For people who do not have sight loss, about 75% of their sensory information received about the immediate environment is from vision, around 13% is from hearing, and the remaining 12% is from our other senses.  When a person experiences sight loss, the 75% will drop down but we use other senses, such as hearing and sound, to obtain enviromental information.   Around 8% of people with sight loss are born with a congenital eye condition, and 92% of people have what is referred to as an acquired sight (acquired during their lifetime).  Only 4% of people are known as being totally blind (no perception of light), the remaining 96% have some remaining functional vision – known as low vision or partial sight – this might vary from dark/light shapes upto better levels of partial sight.   .

The emotional and psychological impact of sight loss has been described and compared to the same emotional journey people experience due to a bereavement.  It can affect many people, and have a significant impact on their daily lives.   It is essential that people experiencing sight loss get the right support and the right time to help them through this emotional journey.

There is help and support services available to people with vision impairment and sight loss – in health, social care, voluntary, educations, employment and private sector organisations.  NHS Eye depts/clinics in hospitals provide clinical care for any eye condition or disease, and community based services such as Social Services Sensory Support Teams provide Vision Rehabilitation and other support services.  There are a number of national and local charities that provide services, information and support to people with sight loss, on a wide range of sight loss related topics and issues, throughout the UK.  Contact the service provider for more details.