For low vision specialists and those who consult them
10% of people with visual impairment don’t know why they don’t see well
December 16, 2010Posted by on
I recently read this excellent paper by Graeme Douglas and colleagues in Birmingham. They interviewed more than 1,000 people who are registered as sight impaired or severely sight impaired in the UK. The study is well designed and very carefully controlled, and produced several very interesting findings.
First, 11% of people who are registered as sight impaired don’t know what eye disease causes their visual loss, even when prompted with a list of likely diagnoses. Don’t forget these are people who have been registered as sight impaired (in the UK, this means they must have been examined by an ophthalmologist, signed a registration certificate, and agreed for their details to go to their local authority. This figure rises to 13% of those of working age.
Second, and reassuringly, 71% of the sample use a low vision aid. 23% have previously used low vision aids, and only 7% have never tried low vision aids. Given that many people may not benefit from magnifiers (those with no light perception; those with very restricted visual fields but good visual acuity), it seems that the British system for low vision aid provision is working relatively well (at least for those who have been in contact with a hospital). I am delighted that there is not a category for “have seen low vision aids but can not afford them” as would happen if we didn’t have a National Health Service. A strength of this study is that the telephone interview technique means people are more likely to be honest about low vision aid use: if a clinician audits device use participants are likely to claim they use a low vision aid to please the person who dispensed it to them.
Of course this study doesn’t address the thousands of people who have visual impairment but who have not been seen in a medical setting. This should be a future area of research in this area. I would also be fascinated to know whether the one-in-ten people who can’t name their eye disease are happily ignorant (“don’t tell me doc, it doesn’t matter to me”) or whether they would rather be able to know more about their condition.
This is one of the best, and most important, papers in British low vision research I have read for some time.