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Advice Health technology

Different ways to enjoy reading with sight loss

by Ali Bates, SSW Tech Advisor

 

One of the consequences of dealing with sight loss is losing the ability to read a regular book. The font can be too small and other issues such as the contrast of the ink and paper and general eye fatigue can create a negative and frustrating experience, resulting in once avid readers giving up reading altogether.

Thankfully there are many options available to the blind and visually impaired community.

RNIB Talking Books offer their service in a few formats.

You can get your Talking Books by digital download. They have a range of titles available to buy or borrow from their online shop. Take a look here to get started.

You can also get your books through an Alexa-enabled device such as your smart speaker, tablet or phone. Here’s some more information on how to access books through this method.

The RNIB can also send a DAISY CD (one book per disc) or USB stick (three books per stick).

To register for any of these formats, call 0303 123 9999 or email helpline@rnib.org.uk

If you have a library card, as well as being able to borrow large print books and audiobooks, they now have an online service called Libby. Libby is a free to download app available on all Android and iOS devices. It works the same way as a library; you can borrow books and read them on your device, using the settings to adjust the font size and contrast as needed. They also have a library of over 7000 audiobooks available. 

To register for this you need to get a four digit PIN number from your local library which, in conjunction with your library card number, enables you to access the service.

To find Libby in the Android store click here.

To find Libby in the Apple store click here.

There are other digital ways to access books but these do incur a cost:

If you would like help with accessing any of these services, please do get in touch with Ali or Chris, the SSW tech support team. 

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Health

Real life: my optician experience

by James Langley, SSW Events Coordinator

 

I wanted to share an interesting visit I had to the opticians recently. I have congenital nystagmus and ocular albinism and have not had a specialist appointment since I was a child. I decided it was time for an up-to-date and in-depth diagnosis.

In the past, visiting a high street opticians has felt like being put through a check out. However, on the recommendation of a friend who has recently been registered severely sight impaired, I visited my local Vision Express and asked for an appointment with the optician she had recommended.

We started with eye scans and distance vision. The machines the optician used picked up an astigmatism. However, she told me this was due to the eye movement associated with nystagmus, and that the reading was not accurate. When looking at distance vision I was unsurprised to hear that lenses would have little to no effect. It was very refreshing to hear that she did not recommend glasses as they would be very big, very expensive and of little use!

photo of James Langley, Events Coordinator for SSW

We then moved on to near/reading vision. Again, I was unsurprised to hear that lenses would have minimal effect. Annoyingly, I had forgotten my magnifying spectacles, which I occasionally use for reading long documents. However, with smart phone accessibility I find myself using them less and less. The optician told me to pop them in next time I was passing and she would update my record.

A few days later I returned to show her my glasses. We tried a couple of near reading tests, first with the naked eye, then with my glasses, then with the lenses she thought might help. But no such luck.

For reference, I can normally read font 14 with the naked eye, 12 if I squint, font 12 with my glasses, 10 if I squint. 

I removed the temporary frame and put my own glasses back on. Here is where it gets interesting… I noticed that my glasses had a very wide field of view; you may know that the temporary frames and lenses they use give you almost tunnel vision.

I pointed this out and told her that I tend to tilt/turn my head when reading and that the temporary lenses blocked that part of my visual field. She widened the space between the two lenses and my vision improved so that I could read font 10 comfortably and 8 if I squinted.

It’s not a huge leap, I know, but for the sake of a minor adjustment to the lenses position I did experience an improvement. I thought this may help someone whose vision is just on the borderline and preventing them from doing something they really want to do.

My vision puts me just below the threshold to drive in the UK so I now wonder if a similar adjustment could be made with distance lenses. That might allow me to drive which would give me increased opportunities. 

I am 33 and can’t believe I haven’t thought about this before. Maybe I’m alone and this is common practice but the optician was just as surprised as me, so thought it worth sharing in case someone else can benefit from a quick trip to the opticians.

 

If you’d like to speak to James about his experience at the opticians you can contact him at the Centre or email james@sswcharity.org.uk. Alternatively if you’d like advice about your eyesight, or maybe you’ve a story to share, we’d love to hear from you!

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Health

Mental Health Awareness Week 2022: loneliness after sight loss

by Ali Bates, SSW Tech Advisor

 

It’s Mental Health Awareness week and the theme this year is loneliness. Loneliness is something that one in four of us suffer with at some point in our life. Today I will share my own experience of dealing with loneliness after sight loss.

Six years ago I suffered a detached retina. It was completely unexpected. I woke up one day with slightly blurry vision in my right eye and didn’t really pay it any attention as my eyes would occasionally go blurry and correct themselves later in the day. On this occasion it did not fix itself and I ignored it. I happened to have a routine optician appointment booked in and it was during this that I got told my retina had detached and I should visit the eye clinic.  Me being me, I left it a few days…  I worked at the hospital at the time so I just called the eye clinic on my next shift.  They demanded I came in to them immediately.

I had not expected that what was going on with my eye was an emergency that required urgent surgery. Unfortunately for me, the surgery was not a success. I woke up from the anaesthetic in complete darkness and excruciating pain. Nobody told me but I knew immediately that it had not been a success. The reality of sight loss had not previously occurred to me,

As part of my recovery I had to learn to sleep on my front and lay facedown for 80% of the day in order to give any chance to have some useable sight.

I existed like this for six weeks, in darkness and constant pain. My husband became my carer; he fed, bathed, did hourly eye drops and did everything in the house including looking after both of our children as well as me. For both of us it was incredibly lonely. I was bored, I wanted to read the news, see a friend and just feel normal and not like I was a burden on my husband.

One Saturday, a few weeks in, everything came to a head. I had only left the house for hospital appointments. My husband was physically and mentally exhausted from doing everything and dealing with the shock and uncertainty of my sight loss and inability to do anything. It was like the mental load had physically paralyzed him. We knew we needed some help from outside our four walls but this was not something either of us had ever sought before.

Monday morning my husband called the GP. He asked for help, he broke down, he felt like he had somehow failed as a husband. But, as I type this, I am literally sat here with tears in my eyes because I am so proud of him for recognising he needed some help. It was not failure; it was acceptance that he is human and there is only so much we can deal with on our own. During our entire relationship, every hurdle we have faced we have got through together, but he was so busy being everything to everyone else that he had nothing left for himself. Something had to give.

He had counselling; he was able to talk openly with someone that could help him adjust to our new normal, give him coping strategies and help him feel less alone. He felt able to tell me how he was feeling without feeling guilty, as the reality is that we both lost a lot more than an eye.  It changed who we are and the dynamic of our relationship. It was a long recovery but as I adjusted to living without my right eye I was able to be his supportive and fun wife again.

My own mental health recovery took a lot longer. I was so determined to get back to normal and back to work, that I did not stop still and give myself time to make adjustments; I threw myself into everything. I was in denial and angry at the same time. Everyone around me was so busy telling me that I am so brave and what an inspiration I am, which only confused me further as some days my only achievement was getting out of the house to get the kids to school.  I would then go home and sit in my house alone, hiding from the real world so no one could see how not ok I was. The short periods of time I was with others I could put my mask on and pretend all was ok.

It was actually our mortgage falling through nearly three years later that finally broke me, us buying our first home had been a focus for so long and at the last moment it was taken away from us. This rekindled my feelings of life being unfair and I went into a tailspin. All my focus went on finding us somewhere new to live and, thankfully, it only took 11 days to find somewhere and get moved in. But then I had a full breakdown. I could not hide from my feelings anymore. I didn’t want to take pills to numb the pain; I NEEDED to deal with everything so now it was my turn to reach out and ask a professional for help. I was lucky to be given a counsellor very quickly.

This lady changed my life. I worked through so much of the trauma I had been living with, accepted that I can still be me even with sight loss and, most importantly, I started to talk openly and honestly. It was not an overnight fix; it has been a long road of acceptance. I still have days of negative feelings but they do not control how I live my life or fill me with feelings of inadequacy. I definitely have many more positive interactions. I will always have a small amount of denial that I am blind but I know that is my stubbornness and determination to live my life on my terms.

I am sharing this as I know being open and honest with my experience may make others feel that they can ask for help. Here at Sight Support Worthing we are passionate about offering our members and their families the support they need. One of our future plans is to offer specialist talking therapy for those living with sight loss as well as their immediate family.

We are putting in a bid to the National Lottery to help fund this vital service. As part of the process we would like feedback from our community. Those of you on our mailing list (email and post) will have had a copy of the survey already. For those of you who have yet to complete it, you can find it here. It should take 3-5 minutes of your time and your feedback will be extremely valued. Thank you.

 

Categories
Health

Sun Awareness Week: eye health

As we start to enjoy the arrival of Spring with any luck the sun will start shining through and give us warmer weather to enjoy the longer days.

We’re all looking forward to shedding the winter layers and reaching for the sun cream to protect our skin from UVA and UVB rays from the sun. 

One thing we may not consider is the damage those same rays can do to our eyes. It is important to start wearing proper eye protection at an early age to shield your eyes from years of ultraviolet exposure. The damage caused can take years to materialise and, by the time we notice the damage, it is often too late to reverse the effects. 

Some of the conditions caused by UVA and UVB rays are: 

  • Cataracts:  The most common cause of treatable sight loss and blindness, cataracts cloud and yellow the lens of your eye, causing progressive vision loss. 
  • Macular degeneration:  A major cause of vision loss for people over age 60, macular degeneration is caused by cumulative UV damage to the central portion of the retina, the back layer inside each eye that records what we see and sends it to your brain. 
  • Keratitis, or corneal sunburn: UV exposure can cause painful burning of the cornea, the clear surface that admits light and images to the retina. Also known as “snowblindness”, this condition occurs in skiers and hikers because of the sun’s intensity at altitudes and its reflective nature off water, snow and ice. 
  • Conjunctival cancers: although rare, these eye cancers are increasing, especially among older people. 

The best way to protect your eyes in the sun would be to avoid direct exposure although, even in this country, this can be quite difficult. You can wear sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays; any reputable company will have this as standard. Prescription glasses can include a polarising tint that offers protection too. Hats with a good sized brim will provide shade for your eyes and the skin around them. Being aware of your surroundings and weather changes is great too as with cloud cover we often forget that harmful rays can still get through. Crucially bear in mind that, even if it is not hot in the sun, damage can still happen. 

SSW has Cocoon branded sunglasses available in the centre for £45 (RRP £59.99). Get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Categories
Health

Eye health: dry eyes

Dry eyes is a fairly common condition and it occurs when there’s a problem with the tear production process or with the quality or quantity of tears produced. Women are twice as likely to suffer with this ailment.

Symptoms include:

  • Sore or gritty eyes.
  • Dry or burning eyes.
  • Blurred vision that improves after blinking.
  • Watery eyes (this occurs because the eye tries to produce more tears to relieve the dryness)

The most common causes are:

  • Hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy, menopause or when using the contraceptive pill.
  • Environmental factors, such as too much sun, wind or heat.
  • Activities that can either strain the eyes by making you stare more or reduce your blink rate, such as reading, writing or using the computer for prolonged periods of time.
  • Medicines, which include some antidepressants, antihistamines, and certain blood pressure-lowering medicines (diuretics and beta-blockers)
  • Using contact lenses.
  • Recent laser eye surgery.
  • Medical conditions such as Bell’s palsy, Sjögren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

If left untreated some complications can occur such as

  • Conjunctivitis, which is an infection of the eye and may need antibiotics to resolve
  • Keratitis, which is an inflammation of the cornea, which, again, may need antibiotics, prescription eye drops or anti-viral medicine.

The good news is dry eyes are easy to manage. Here’s a few ways you can reduce the effects of dry eyes:

  • Keep yourself hydrated and drink plenty of water.
  • Try an over the counter product that’s designed to alleviate dry eye symptoms, like artificial tears or lubricating eye drops.
  • Keep your eyelids and eyelashes clean by gently cleaning them.
  • Omega-3 may help to ease symptoms but this has not been proven. It can be found in oily fish and plant-based sources like walnuts and rapeseed oil.

If you are at all concerned you can speak to a pharmacist, optician or the health professionals in the eye clinic who will be able to advise you on the best treatment for you.

Categories
Advice Health

Tips for eye health at work

by Alison Bates, Tech Adviser

March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month. Although there are a huge range of settings for work, we are generally becoming more reliant on digital technology. This can result in extended time in front of a screen which can cause eye strain, headaches, blurry vision, and neck and shoulder pain.

Thankfully, there are many ways we can prevent these symptoms and here are a few suggestions:

Good posture

Sit making sure your head and neck are upright and in-line with your torso, not bent down or leaning back. Face your screen directly in front and position the screen around 25 inches (roughly an arm’s length away).

20-20-20

Every 20 minutes, look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This will give your eyes a rest from the screen for a suitable amount of time.

Device settings

There are a number of ways you can make your computer, tablet or phone better for your eyes. You can raise the contrast on your screen. Perhaps make the text larger which can reduce strain, and also change the brightness of the screen. It shouldn’t be lighter or darker than your surroundings.

You can also lower the colour temperature of your screen. That means it will give off less blue light, which is linked to more eye strain.

Get regular eye tests

Regular eye tests are essential for maintaining eye health at work; you should have one every two years unless your eye care specialist recommends you have them more regularly.

Many workplaces will cover the cost of your test and may help towards the cost of any glasses needed so it is worth checking with your HR department.

At Sight Support Worthing we encourage our staff to maintain good eye health by covering the cost of an eye test and pay towards any glasses needed. 

“People often take their vision for granted, but problems with eyesight can occur at any time in your life. As a sight loss charity, we ensure our team take regular screen breaks and keep up to date with routine eye tests but it's really something all employers should be doing. The people are the most important part of any organisation, and their sight is often critical to the work they do so it makes sense to protect the eyes as the most important resource.”

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Health

Real life: realising I’m blind

by Alison Bates, SSW Tech Advisor

Ok, so I will start off by saying I didn’t actually notice I am blind. Earlier this week I had an appointment with the eye clinic and during the visit a doctor suggested I be registered as sight impaired. I was pleased as I have been asking about this for the last few years but got fobbed off and didn’t pursue it.

Today I had a sight care advisor call me to ask some questions, so that she could get the paperwork sorted to get me registered as severe sight impaired. I had to ask her to repeat herself as I thought I was being registered simply as sight impaired. She apologised as she had been told I had consented to being registered, which I had: I just had just assumed it was for sight impairment.

Sight impaired means partially sighted, and severe sight impaired means blind. But I can see – sort of – out of one eye that randomly goes blurry. But I CAN SEE! It’s just hard work. ‘Blind’ doesn’t mean no vision – I know that – I just never really considered that my sight was that bad.

Then I remember I can’t read books anymore, not the paper ones anyway. I can’t make eye contact with people because I can’t see their eyes; I can’t even see my own eye colour in the mirror. So this, and so much more that I don’t even take into consideration, means that legally I am blind.

This changes nothing about me or my sight except a bit more self-awareness. Maybe I will be more patient with myself and allow more time to process things, ask for help and – even better – still accept help when its offered rather than just trying to stubbornly get on with it (yeah, right). 

 

Alison Bates, official BLINDO

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Health Local info

Share your experiences of using GP services in the last six months

Healthwatch is undertaking a survey into the public’s experiences of using GP services, specifically in the last six months. Perhaps you can help by completing the survey?

 

Who is Healthwatch?

Healthwatch in Sussex is the local independent champion for people using health and care services in Brighton and Hove, East Sussex and West Sussex. They listen to what people like about services and what they think could be improved and share their views with those who have the power to make change happen. 

What issues are people facing?

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a huge strain on the NHS and also impacted how the public access health services. Staff at GP practices have been working hard to deliver the vaccine programme, catch up on the backlog of treatments and respond to new ways of working such as offering video and telephone consultations and providing online consultation software such as e-consult.

 

Healthwatch has heard that these new ways of accessing GP services have worked well for some people, allowing them to save time and get the help they need, quickly. But for others it’s been more difficult, time consuming and frustrating to access support when they need it.

How you can help

Healthwatch has already run a survey for GP staff to understand how their roles have changed during the pandemic, what practices do well, and what challenges they face.

 

Now they need to hear about your experiences of accessing GP services so they can help the NHS understand what is working well and what could be better, so that together solutions can be found.

 

Please help Healthwatch by completing our questionnaire https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/SussexAccessingYouDoctorsSurgery/ and tell them about your experiences of accessing GP services in the last six months. They’d like your feedback on how you contacted your GP practice, how you booked an appointment and how your appointment went.

 

If you need this questionnaire in another format or version, please contact Healthwatch West Sussex

phone: 0300 012 0122

email: helpdesk@healthwatchwestsussex.co.uk

web: healthwatchwestsussex.co.uk The results of this survey will be collated and put into a report and shared with NHS services and organisations to help shape the way services are developed in the future. All feedback is anonymous.

 

The questionnaire should take no longer than 15 minutes to fill in. The closing date for the survey is Friday 31 December 2021.

Categories
Health

Cataract operations – a personal experience

Last year, SSW Chairman Barry Ward underwent a cataract operation. Here’s his experience of this eye health journey, with each stage written as it happened.

Diagnosis

I was referred to the Shoreham Eye clinic “as a precaution” after my annual eye test with Specsavers.

When I attended the subsequent appointment at the Eye Clinic, I must admit I was very surprised and somewhat shocked to be told that I needed both cataracts removing. I had no idea that there was a real problem with my eyes and initially I found it hard to accept.

However, the total lack of any surprise when I told friends and colleagues brought home to me that not only was this par for the course for someone in their 70s, but also that the general view is that such an operation is very straightforward with brilliant results.

Did that make be feel better? To be honest, it didn’t at first, although I fully understood the logic of those views. I am now just three days away from the first operation and I’m feeling reasonably calm but nonetheless anxious – if that’s not a contradiction in terms!

Operation

On the day I was much calmer than I expected. The nursing staff were very reassuring and helpful, responding positively to all my questions.

The operation itself was strange (being fully awake) but totally pain free and not even uncomfortable. If, as expected, the other eye needs doing then I shall have no anxieties at all.

The de-briefing from a nurse was thorough and fully documented. I left with a patch and padding to provide protection for the first night. Then the advice was to wear the patch (without the padding) just overnight for the first two or three nights, to avoid anything hitting the eye.

Recovery

This varies apparently, depending on the severity of the initial condition and the individual’s own health.In my case, the following days were as follows:

  • Days 1 and 2: I could see very little out of the eye that was treated. It was like being in a white cloud trying to look out.
  • Day 3: there was an improvement. It was now like looking through heavy net curtains particularly in the centre of my vision.
  • Day 4: I could now see more consistently although with a slight “haze”.
  • Day 5 onwards: I have been managing without my glasses at all when walking or just sitting indoors (I am long sighted). Having worn glasses all the time for nearly 40 years, that is a strange feeling (something that my children and grandchildren are finding equally strange as they have not seen me without glasses).

Some time has now passed since the operation and the sight in the eye continues to improve. I had the left lens in my previous glasses changed to clear glass as the prescription lens was making it difficult to focus with my newly improving eye when reading

Cataracts: did you know?
  • Cataracts are caused when the eye’s lens becomes cloudy and no longer focuses light properly, often causing a blurry vision effect.
  • It’s not just the elderly who are affected by cataracts. Although it is more prevalent in the elderly, it is possible in people of all ages.
  • Cataracts are the biggest cause of vision loss in the world.
  • Sun exposure can increase your risk of cataracts. So, the hat you wear to protect the skin on your face will actually help prevent the onset of cataracts too. Sunglasses (or some sort of protective eyewear), of course, are also helpful.
  • You can reduce your risk for cataracts. While you cannot completely prevent cataracts, you can reduce your risk by eating healthily, exercising, not smoking and wearing sunglasses.
  • Surgery is the only treatment but cataracts can’t grow back – because the lens is replaced by a plastic one, it can’t then develop a new cataract. It can become cloudy but this can be removed with the use of a laser.

Thanks to Barry for sharing his experiences of cataracts – the initial diagnosis, the run up to and the operation itself, as well as his recovery from the operation.

We hope Barry’s experience helps you understand the process and that there is nothing to fear. In fact, like most operations, the results are worth the possible apprehension.

If you have an eye health experience to share, or you would like more advice on sight loss, please do get in touch with us. If we cannot help you ourselves, we will know someone who can!

Categories
Health

Book a RNIB Mental Wellbeing Check-in Session

The RNIB is offering Mental Wellbeing Check-ins. These one off sessions are for community members with sight loss who would like to share feelings, explore coping strategies and any further support needs with a trained counsellor.

Sessions will address some of the feelings created by the current pandemic situation including anxiety and distress. To refer into this service please fill in the form online or call the helpline 03031239999.

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