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Coping with Sight Loss

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Overview

Being diagnosed with sight loss can be life-changing and often results in a range of emotions similar to experiencing a bereavement, from shock, denial, anger, frustration, anxiety, fear to sadness and helplessness.  These are all common reactions to sight loss and it is important to know that it is OK to feel this way. 

Everyone is different when going through this process. You may or may not experience all of the above emotions and some emotions may last longer than others, but these feelings should lessen with time as you learn to adjust to life with your remaining vision. 

Initially, you may feel like you have lost your sense of identity but with the right kind of support (both emotional and practical), you may regain your confidence and continue with your previous roles or even discover new interests that you would not have otherwise considered. 

Fortunately, there are a range of services available both in hospital and in the community to help you go through this difficult period. These are explained further in the following text. The type and level of support that everyone requires is variable but the most important thing to remember is not to be afraid to ask for help.

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Emotional support and counselling services

You may feel emotionally vulnerable when newly diagnosed with sight loss or experiencing deteriorating vision. It is during this period that having a good support network makes a positive impact on how you adjust to this new phase of life. Talking to family and friends may be helpful, but some might prefer to talk to people with similar experiences or outside of their family circle. 

This is where counselling services might help and they can be accessed through: 

  • Specialist eye hospitals or eye departments
  • GP services
  • Charities

The support services offered by charities include one-to-one telephone counselling, online counselling via instant messaging, video or email and telephone support groups, family support services and peer support groups.

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Depression

Although it is normal to feel sad initially with sight loss, sometimes it may lead to depression if it lasts more than a few weeks and stops you from getting on with your daily life. 

Please seek help from your GP or counsellor if you experience any of the following:  

  • Low mood
  • Low energy 
  • Loss of interests in activities that you normally enjoy such as your hobby or meeting friends and family
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Suicidal thoughts

These are some of the main symptoms associated with depression but other symptoms not listed here may be present as well.  

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Low vision clinic

Low vision clinics offer practical support to children and adults with uncorrectable vision loss to optimise their remaining vision and help maintain their independence. In the NHS, the majority of low vision clinics are hospital-based services led by optometrists, though other models exist within the charity sector, rehabilitation centres and community optometry practices.  

Typically, patients are referred to low vision clinics by their ophthalmologist, but a GP can refer patients to this service as well.  If you are struggling with your vision, you can ask your ophthalmologist, optometrist or GP to refer you to the low vision clinic.

When attending the clinic, you will undergo a low vision assessment which contains two main aspects:

  • Measurement of vision and prescription of glasses and magnifiers to maximise vision 
  • Signposting and referral for additional support
A snellen chart is typically used to measure vision in eye clinics. It has eight lines of letters which are decreasing in size. The largest letter is at the top of the chart while the smallest is at the bottom.
Snellen chart: Most common type of reading chart used to test level of vision

These aspects can only be addressed if the clinician has a full understanding of how visual impairment affects your daily life.  Though common complaints often centre around difficulty in reading, it is important to remember there are other aspects of life which can be affected by sight impairment such as: 

  • Employment 
  • Education 
  • Hobbies 
  • Mobility and independence
  • Selfcare
  • Ability to look after others
  • Accessing information and technology
  • Developing and maintaining personal relationships
  • Emotional wellbeing 

The nature and extent of sight impairment and whether it is stationary or progressive, are likely to impact on the challenges you face.  Exploring these factors will help identify the additional support you may need and allow for an individualised, goal driven approach to be taken.

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Optimisation of vision

As many inherited eye disorders cannot be treated at the moment, it is crucial that your remaining vision is optimised to maximise quality of life. This can be achieved through various ways:

  • Spectacle or contact lens prescription
  • Assistive technology (widely available now with increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets)
  • Optical magnifiers (hand magnifiers, stand magnifiers, telescopes or strong magnifying reading glasses)
  • Electronic magnifiers (portable, desktop and head mounted electronic magnifying systems)

Different devices can be utilised based on the specific tasks you expressed difficulty with.  Suitable devices are typically loaned free of charge from the NHS except for electronic magnifiers and assistive technologies but these will be demonstrated if appropriate.

Several expensive wearable electronic magnifiers are also available commercially.  It is recommended that you discuss these with a low vision clinic optometrist before purchasing any in case your needs can be easily addressed by simpler devices.

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Additional support

Depending on your needs, you may be signposted or offered a referral to additional services or other healthcare professionals. These can be categorised as below: 

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Further information and support

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