Staff at Cullingworth Street in Dewsbury are helping to educate local health professionals, carers and service users about the difficulties people with learning disabilities can face when it comes to vision.
Figures show about 30% of people with learning disabilities have a significant impairment of sight, but there is a high rate of under-detection of sensory impairments, most of which can be treated. If not treated, even a small deterioration in vision can cause significant difficulties for people with learning disabilities.
It is important that people supporting somebody with a learning disability knows how to recognise sight problems, particularly if the person has limited communication skills. It is also equally as important that people know what to do if they suspect a person has a sight difficulty or problems with their eyes.
A person’s quality of life can be greatly improved when sight problems have been identified and they receive appropriate help. Some people have no outward signs of visual impairment, which is why regular eye tests are so important. Many causes of blindness are preventable if identified early and treated, so people with learning disabilities should be encouraged to visit a local Optician at least every two years.
People don’t have to be able to talk or read in order to have their sight tested as special assessments and examinations have been developed for adults with limited communication.
By looking at the behaviour of a person it can often become apparent that they have an eye problem or a visual impairment. These behaviours might help people make the best use of their sight. Rather than thinking of these behaviours as being ‘odd’ or ‘unusual’ they should be seen as serving a purpose for the person for example light gazing, placing their head in unusual positions, responding better in well lit areas.
One of the health support workers from the resource centre at Cullingworth Street, Dewsbury, attended a conference run by the charity See Ability, to explore how they can help support people who use the service. The conference explored using some of assessment tools to help gather good information to ensure more thorough eye testing when supporting people with a learning disability to attend the opticians for the first time.
Taking the knowledge gained at the conference and in partnership with See Ability it was decided that service users and carers would benefit from a special information event on how to look after their eyes. The event focussed on things that could go wrong with eyes and the importance of having regular tests for picking up other health issues such as diabetes and glaucoma.
Around 40 people attended the event and they were thoroughly engaged in activities such as trying different sight impairment goggles to see what life would be like with reduced vision. Attendees were invited to wear the glasses and explore different objects and their surrounding s to see how different impairments can have an impact.
Most people, even those believed to be totally blind, have some sight which they can be helped to use in their daily lives. In fact 95% of people with severe sight loss have some vision. With the right help, people can make considerable progress, becoming more assertive and independent and develop new skills. One success story from the event was the discovery that a lady who had been registered as blind actually had more vision than previously thought. By wearing a pair of the goggles it was discovered her vision was better than thought and work is now being done to assess this further to see what can be done to improve her quality of life.