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More than one third of older people with sight loss never go out in their local area without a sighted guide, according to a report published today by NCBI, the national sight loss agency, and Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind (IGDB). People over the age of 65, many of whom have lost their sight due to age-related eye conditions, reported that the poor design of their local environments and public transport were the main obstacles to getting out and about independently. The National Mobility Report: mobility experiences and perceptions of blind and vision impaired persons, found that reduced mobility greatly affects quality of life and limits opportunities for social participation among older people.
The length of time a person has been living with sight loss has an effect on their independence and ability to cope. While 46% of those under the age of 65 had sight loss either from birth or childhood, more than half (55%) of those over 65 lost their sight in the last 10 years. They have therefore had to come to terms, both practically and emotionally, with impaired vision in early old age, while managing other health, disability and age-related issues.
Des Kenny, chief executive of NCBI, notes that while older people report difficulty in getting about independently, they are not keen to take up opportunities for mobility training when offered. “The National Mobility Report shows that 92% of older participants would not consider mobility training as they feel they are managing without it. They may get by with some informal training, with support from family and friends or it they may find the idea of formal mobility training too daunting if they have other health or disability concerns, as 59% reported.”
Mobility training includes training in using a long cane, a symbol cane, a guide dog or a sighted guide. A long cane is the most popular form of mobility aid, with 18% of participants using this method, while 5% are guide dog users and 5.5% use a symbol cane, which is not a mobility aid but lets other people know that the user has a vision impairment and may need assistance.
Organisations like NCBI and IGDB need to look at this poor uptake in mobility training in more detail and look at how cooperation with other services and agencies could improve the take up, according IGDB chief executive Padraig Mallon. “Respondents to this study said they didn’t take up mobility training because they manage with the help of a sighted guide. Yet only 6% of those who use this technique described their perception of their mobility as “very well”. We want to ensure that people are not just ‘managing’ to get by, but are enabled to be as independent as they can be, given their personal circumstances and the level of support that is available to them. It is also important that we continue to address the environmental problems that have been reported as obstacles to independent mobility, such as uneven pavements, obstacles on pavements, badly positioned signs and using public transport.”
The report recommends the development of a national vision strategy to ensure that a multi-disciplinary approach is taken to addressing the problems of dealing with mobility in older people with sight loss, who are also dealing with other health and disability issues. The findings will enable Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind and NCBI to work together to communicate the value and importance of mobility training directly to people with impaired vision and to develop opportunities for peer support. This report will also encourage an interdisciplinary approach between service providers, occupational therapists and physiotherapists.
For further information contact Fionnuala Murphy, Communications Manager, NCBI on 087 4116925 or email email@example.com.
Notes to editors:
• The study was conducted by the Department of Occupational Therapy in Trinity College Dublin in 2008 and written by Dr Siobhán McCobb, PhD, MSc, Dip. COT.
• 564 people who are registered as blind were interviewed about their experiences of mobility. 59% of the sample is aged between 18 and 64-years-of-age, while 41% were over the age of 65.
• NCBI’s Cost of Sight Loss study, which was published in September 2011, shows that there are currently 224,832 people living with low vision and sight loss in the Republic of Ireland. That figure is set to rise to 271,996 by 2020.