Between 1 and 1.5 million people in the UK are visually impaired and the majority of these are older people.
Over 90% of visually impaired people have some sight; the majority do not simply experience complete darkness. Appropriate rehabilitation can help people learn or adapt ways of doing things to help them remain independent.
The most common cause of severe sight loss in the UK (well over 100,000 people), especially amongst elderly people. The macula is the part of the retina at the back of the eye which gives central/detail vision. This can become less sensitive in later life with a gradual loss of ability to see things clearly straight ahead (people’s faces, TV, print, etc.), distorted vision, loss of colour vision and/or a dark or ‘missing’ area in the centre of vision. People usually retain outline vision for many years and never go completely blind from Macular Degeneration.
Diabetic Eye Disease
Diabetes can affect the eye in various ways, usually involving damage to the retina at the back of the eye, especially for people who have been diabetic for a long time. This usually leads to patchy vision, difficulty in focusing and sometimes loss of colour vision. Vision may also fluctuate and there can be other health problems. Ophthalmic treatment is usually by laser, at least initially.
Changes in pressure within the eye cause damage to the optic nerve at the back, which carries visual images to the brain. Detail vision can remain quite good but often within a restricted field. There can be sensitivity to bright light. Treatment is usually by eye drops, optical aids and sunglasses. People of any age can develop Glaucoma, usually slowly and painlessly and it can be treated, especially if detected early. Anyone over the age of 40 is entitled to a free eye examination if there is a history of Glaucoma in their family.
A Cataract is a clouding or darkening of the normally clear lens at the front of the eye. This usually develops slowly, over a number of years as we get older (i.e. 65 plus), but can be hereditary or develop rapidly as a result of injury or disease. Cataracts lead to a blurring of vision, with near vision usually better than distance. They are easily detectable by eye examination and surgery is now regarded as routine.
Other less common eye disorders include:
- Corneal problems (sometimes requiring grafts)
- Hemianopia (loss of half the field of vision in each eye, often after a stroke)
- Myopia (short sight)
- Nystagmus (involuntary movement of the eye making focusing difficult)
- Optic Atrophy (damage to the optic nerve carrying visual messages from the back of the eye to the brain)
- Retinal Detachment (where the retina splits from its base layer)
- Retinitis Pigmentosa (hereditary conditions leading to a gradual loss of peripheral vision, leaving ‘tunnel vision’
For more detailed information on specific eye conditions speak to your Consultant. There are support organisations for specific conditions, contact us for further details.