Blink and you could miss National Eye Health Week sandwiched as it is between National Quiet Day and Talk Like a Pirate.
But it could be our loss.
More than two million people in the UK live with sight loss, 50 per cent of which could have been avoided. As statistics go it is, to put it bluntly, an eye opener. Blackpool based specialist charity N-Vision is determined to do its bit and bring the figures down in future and help those already affected.
National Eye Health Week (Sept 18-24) urges us to have regular eye tests, eat our greens, curb booze, pack in ciggies and get more exercise. It's the same old, same old, this time with regular eye tests mentioned. But how do health champions encourage others to see sense without them feeling hectored or lectured?
Frankly it's a message which is ignored at our peril.
N-Vision, Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind, calls it a wake up call. Vision matters.
The charity, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of its Talking Newspaper service this summer, is part of the Lancashire Eye Health Network which brings together sight loss charities, hospital ophthalmologists, high street optometrists and other agencies concerned about eye health.
Judith Harrison, N-Vision’s community services manager and representative of the LEHN, explains: “The group wants to get the message out about how important it is to have regular sight tests in the hope of eliminating avoidable sight loss.”
Arguably, that’s best achieved by talking to those registered as blind or severely sight impaired– 96 per cent of whom still have some sight. It’s a lesson in perspective – and in reminding others just what’s at stake.
Joyce O’Callaghan, 77, one of N-Vision’s 2200 clients, confesses: “I’ve been coming here for 15 years. I wish I’d listened to my doctor when he warned me that I could lose my sight. But I preferred my treats. I was a chocoholic. If I could change things, I would.”
Anne Walmsley, 85, who has macular degeneration, admits: “I miss sewing. I used to sew every day. But it’s surprising how you cope. I’d urge others to come here and get help, get advice."
Mary Hunter, 88, of Blackpool, says: “I had a detached retina and then macular degeneration started six years ago. I used to play cards competitively. I’m a poor loser!”
Tom Critchley, 73, a regular at N-Vision with wife Carol for 20 years, lost his sight to retinal detachment and glaucoma. “I don’t want sympathy, just understanding,” he adds. “It’s not a total disaster. Get to the opticians, stay active, look after yourself.” The couple are pictured above.
He’s a member of Simply Synapptic which recently celebrated its first anniversary – members tucking into cake topped with Synapptic keyboard edible icing presented to group founder Jean Wild by low vision worker Brian Casey’s wife Beverly, trustee and social media volunteer at the charity.
Jean Wild, 80, lost her central vision to macular degeneration. She inspired N-Vision to set up a Simply Synapptic group which meets monthly to support clients using Synapptic software on smartphones and tablets. “I never thought it would last so long,” says Jean. “It helps keep you in touch in with the outside world.” Not bad for a charity set up in 1910. It's been at the vanguard of technological advances this year.
Both Brian and Beverly have been shortlisted jointly for the Blackpool Gazette Best of Health Unsung Hero award on Thursday (Sept 21) - in the midst of eye health week. Winning that really would be the icing on the cake.
Brian, 52, of Fleetwood, lost his sight 27 years ago to sports injuries but hit the national headlines recently after using eSight glasses to watch Fleetwood Town play. (For the record, they were soundly trounced by PNE, and with Granada Reports there to capture every moment - rapidly followed by most of the national press.) It was a very different Brian who met his wife to be Beverly, also attending the RNIB rehab centre, shortly after diagnosis. Bev, severely visually impaired since birth, made him realise all was not lost. The couple are an immensely inspirational team.
Jeff Crozier of Lytham lost his sight to a stroke. “I was on the motorway, got lost, came off, had a stroke. Another stroke in hospital damaged the optic nerve. I lost my sight in seconds. Everything is blurred but I still play golf and my wife Gwen is the best carer. My advice to others is never say ‘used to’ and never say ‘can’t’.”
Jean Hancock, who’s in her late 70s, lost her sight to polio – at 17. “It affected the optic nerve. After that I got glaucoma, then two years ago cataracts. Everything’s a blur. But I haven't let it get in the way of life."
N-Vision’s community services manager Judith adds: “One in five people aged 75 and one in two aged 90 an over live with sight loss – and nearly two thirds are women.
“Almost two thirds of sight loss in older people is caused by refractive error or cataract and both can be detected by a simple eye test and in most cases corrected.
“Macular degeneration affects so many of our clients – it’s the commonest cause of sight loss in the over 60s. The macular is a tiny part of the retina but responsible for central vision used for reading, watching telly, seeing the dials on cookers, the smile on a loved one’s face.
"Our clients redefine resilient. It's a privilege to meet them."
One of N-Vision’s younger clients Rose Thorley, 54, poignantly reveals: “I’ve no sight in my right eye and about a third in the left. I haven’t the foggiest idea why. It was my children who got me here. My daughters are 30 and 25. They saved me, really. I’m a different person today because of this place.”
Dr Sheila Kelleher, based at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, works on macular assessment (‘mostly macular degeneration”) clinics, laser clinics, diabetes and carries out intravitreal injections to help absorb fluid leaking out at the back of the eye. “We’re firefighting the whole time, monitoring and treating fluctuating conditions, operating, curing, or looking at longer term treatments. Ageing can’t be stopped, but smoking can – and that can make a huge difference to eye health. I’d love to see fruit and veg subsidised too so that people could afford to eat healthier younger.”
Linda Sethi, N-Vision’s specialist eye cinic liaison officer, offers tips for better eye health.
- “Eat lots of broad leaf greens such as spinach and kale. Also broccoli, carrots, orange sweet peppers and corn along with oily fish such as tuna and salmon.
- ‘Smokers are much more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration and cataracts compared with non-smokers.
- “Excessive drinking can lead to serious health conditions that have a detrimental effect on your eyes.
- “Exercise may reduce the risk of sight loss which can occur because of high blood pressure, diabetes and narrowing and hardening of the arteries.
- “Also remember to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays by wearing good quality sunglasses or a wide brimmed hat.
- “Optometrists recommend an eye test every two years – even if you think your vision is fine,
- “Eye tests are quick and easy and for a lot of people, including children and over-60s, free on the NHS.
- “If anyone is experiencing difficulties with sight loss N-Vision is here to offer support and information. Call us on 01253 362696.”
- Tuesday Sept 19 10am to 3pm meet N-Vision’s eye clinic liaison officer Linda Sethi on the mezzanine balcony of Blackpool Victoria Hospital overlooking the main lobby
- Attend N-Vision’s sight loss support group at the charity’s Low Vision Centre, Bosworth Place, Squires Gate, 2pm on Thursday Sept 21 to meet staff and clients and hear guest speaker Ceri Smith-Jaynes, a leading local optometrist
- Join N-Vision’s 3 Piers sponsored walk/run on Sunday (Sept 24) from the centre at Bosworth Place, Squires Gate, at 10am. Take on three to six miles (N-Vision to South, Central or North piers and back). Food and drink on return to the centre for those taking part and the chance to learn more about eye health.
- N-Vision hosts its annual exhibition of services and equipment from traditional magnifiers to the latest computer software and sophisticated e-Sight glasses on Friday Sept 29 from 10am to 3pm at the Low Vision Centre and Sharples Hall, Bosworth Place. Exhibitors include Associated Optical, Enhanced Vision, eSight, Humanware, Optelec, Orcam, Sight & Sound Technology, Synapptic and VisionAid.
- The charity is also in the running nationally for a Marks and Spencer Energy Fund grant to provide LED lighting to halve electricity costs for the charity and help clients at the Low Vision Centre and residents of the Princess Alexandra Home. N-Vision is listed in the Lancashire and Cumbria section and up against well over 100 charities with winners decided by public vote. To learn more follow the link: https://www.mandsenergyfund.com/projects/n-vision-led-lighting-project
- For more on national eye health week see www.visionmatters.org.uk or follow on Twitter @myvisionmatters
"Ageing can't be stopped but smoking can - and that can make a huge difference to eye health"
DR SHEILA KELLEHER
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