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Save Our Sight Focus On Low Vision

Media release
SAVE OUR SIGHT August 2008

Save Our Sight Focus On Low Vision

Around 81,500 New Zealand adults and 13,200 children are legally blind or have a sight impairment that cannot be corrected by glasses or contact lenses.

The focus of the 2008 New Zealand Association of Optometrists’ Save Our Sight campaign throughout the month of August is people living with vision impairment.

The key message is have a regular check up by an optometrist before vision deteriorates. Many problems can be treated with early detection.

“Low vision is an ongoing and long term condition that has significant impact on a person’s life,” says NZAO national director Dr Lesley Frederikson.

“Reduced vision is an inevitable outcome of many chronic eye conditions including cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetes. The number of people affected by these conditions is increasing with our ageing population and one of the saddest facts is that if people were diagnosed with a condition early by their optometrist the degree of vision lost could be reduced.

“But once vision is lost, it’s gone forever.”

Research shows people with low vision are negatively affected in terms of independent living, quality of life, self-ranking of health, depression, falls and fractures. They are also likely to have increased need for community and/or family support and earlier institutionalised care.

Optometrists are the primary care providers to people with a wide range of eye conditions which require long term management as functional vision is reduced.

“Low vision care is a core part of optometry training and optometrists around New Zealand are daily providing care to patients trapped in the long, arduous progression from normal vision to legally blind,” Dr Frederikson says.

“For many of these people, the transition to low vision status is accompanied by the need for a range of low vision aids to maintain both health and safety.”

As part of Save Our Sight 2008, the Ministry of Health has funded the distribution of 300 comprehensive low vision kits to practices around the country to help optometrists demonstrate to low vision clients what aids are available to improve their individual situation.

“Most commonly, low vision patients are assisted by the use of a magnifier to enable them to read. Safety issues addressed include reading names and directions on medicines, reading key bills for payment such as electricity bills to avoid disconnection, reading safety instructions on appliances and checking oven settings and temperature to avoid stove fires,” Dr Frederikson says.

The type of magnifier that each person needs will depend on the degree of visual impairment, the ability of the person to hold a magnifier, and the requirement to add more light.

“The optometrist is able to prescribe the most suitable low vision aid based on clinical findings, but most low vision patients will need to ‘test drive’ a few magnifiers to settle on the best one for their needs and abilities.”

The main problem is that there are few opportunities for them to use trial equipment. Dr Frederikson says as far as the association is aware, there are only nine low vision clinics in New Zealand:
 Dunedin
 Christchurch
 Wellington
 Palmerston North
 Hamilton
 Auckland
 Whangerei
 Wanganui
 Napier

But with around 81,500 New Zealand adults and 13,200 New Zealand children who are blind or have a sight impairment that cannot be corrected by glasses or contact lenses, access is a major problem.

”Existing low vision centres are not well spread around the country and a large proportion of vision impaired people are not specifically being catered for. Many find distance a barrier to access for low vision services and it is difficult to try out vision aids prior to purchase. That’s why the Ministry of Health funding of the kits is so valuable.”

The New Zealand Association of Optometrists hopes that greater awareness of the extent of low vision and the problems associated with it will lead to improvement in access to services for low vision patients in all areas.

“We would also like to see reduced waiting times for assessment in relation to low vision aids and an increase in options for people with low vision to trial low vision aids,” Dr Frederikson says.

For more information:www.nzao.co.nz or check your Yellow Pages for an NZAO optometrist near you.

ENDS

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