Every day in Scotland, ten people are told the devastating news that they are starting to lose their sight.
And, with an aging population, it’s likely more people will, in future, lose some or all of their sight.
Luckily, here in the Borders, support is on offer to patients from the minute they are diagnosed.
For the last four years, Alison Paton-Day has been helping people to move on with their lives.
Based at Borders General Hospital’s eye clinic, she is a Royal National Institute of Blind People’s Eye Clinic Liaison Officer (ECLO).
Alison has worked with RNIB for nine years so knows only too well the impact a diagnosis can have.
She said: “When losing their sight, everyone is worried about the loss of their independence, identity and the impact it will have on their life and the people around them.
“My job is to give people help and reassurance when they need it most.
“Without that, they can lose confidence and find it difficult to cope, leading to social isolation and depression. It’s vital that people are helped to make the adjustment.”
And that’s why being based at the eye clinic in Melrose is imperative.
“I’ve been working in the Borders for four years, the last three of which have been hospital based as that’s where people are diagnosed,” expained Alison.
“That means we can meet people very early on in their sight loss journey.
“The earlier people access help and support, the better equipped they are to deal with it long term.
“People have different reactions to losing their sight – a whole range of emotions including shock, denial, anger, fear and grief. That’s normal.
“We offer the emotional support they need from day one.
“ECLO workers are trained to understand. We help patients open up and talk through their concerns.
“When the person is ready we can also offer advice on how to lessen the impact their eye condition may have on them.”
The ECLO service, run by RNIB Scotland, can refer people on to other services, advise on aids to make life easier and help with retaining a job.
Alison said: “An underlying fear of the unknown brings worry. But we can provide support and information to the patient, as well as friends and family.
“What works best in reassuring people can be just listening, discussing their concerns and giving realistic expectations and advice on how to help maintain their independence and identity.
“This may include information on equipment, services or suggesting new ways of doing things.
“Local support groups are also a great way to help people meet others who understand how they feel, share tips and make new friends.
“Over time, working with people you can see their confidence grow. They are far better prepared to meet new challenges and try new things.
“Even small changes, using an item of equipment, can boost confidence.
“People learn new ways of doing things for themselves and this helps them feel more in control.”
More than 80 per cent of clients reported feeling increased emotional well-being as a result of the support they received.
Although sight loss affects people of all ages, it becomes increasingly common the older we get. One in five people aged 75 and over are living with sight loss, with one in two aged 90 and over.
Elaine Thomson (54) from Peebles has Keratoconus, a condition she has had from her early teens.
But it has progressed in recent years and Alison was there to help.
Elaine said: “It’s good to talk to someone who understands and can make suggestions about services and equipment.
“Alison referred me to the Low Vision Clinic but I missed my appointment.
“I would often mix dates up and miss things because I couldn’t see my calendar.
“I was upset but Alison helped me get another appointment to see if a magnifier would help.
“The clinic spent time helping me find the right one and gave me a long cane that has helped with my mobility.
“I found going out difficult as the pavements were so uneven. I used to tap with the toe of my shoe looking for uneven surfaces.
“The cane has made me more confident walking.”
If you’d like to find out more about the ECLO service, call Alison on 07771 940387 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Group wants to make new connections locally
Elaine Thomson from Peebles has been so inspired by the support she has received that she is setting up an RNIB Connect group in the town.
Elaine met Alun Peate, a guide dog user from Coldstream, in Edinburgh to discuss setting up a support group.
Alun also now lives in Peebles and the pair are hosting the first meeting of Borders VIP (Visually Impaired Forum) in the upper room of Wetherspoons, Peebles, on May 1 from 2pm to 4pm.
Elaine said: “The aim of the group is to help people who have sight loss, as well as their carers, here in the Borders.
“There isn’t a group for people to come together and talk about what’s available locally.
“It will give people who are in a similar position a chance to meet up and have a chat so they don’t feel so isolated.”
Elaine and Alun also plan to invite guest speakers along to meetings to discuss items of interest to visually impaired people. But they are waiting for other people to get on board before deciding the group’s make-up.
Elaine explained: “We want other members to have an input into how often we meet and what format the meetings should take.
“So we’ll decide that following our first meeting.
“We’ve got one or two people locally who are coming along, as well as some from Edinburgh and Dumfries and Galloway who are interested in what we are doing.
“We think meetings will be staged once a month and they will be open to anyone who is partially sighted or blind from across the Borders, as well as family, friends and carers.
“We are hoping it will help people with sight loss make new connections and friends.”
To find out more, call Elaine on 07928 432914 or email email@example.com.