For many of us, learning to drive is one of life’s rites of passage. It represents a stepping-stone into adulthood, and a passport to independence we all too quickly take for granted. How it might feel to have that autonomy taken away from us is something to which we barely give a thought; yet for many people in the UK with low vision it will become an all too painful reality.
Last year in the UK the DVLA revoked the licences of more than 9,000 drivers because of poor vision, an increase of more than 2,000 since 2012. These numbers are set to rise as Britain grapples with the impacts of its ageing population and diabetes.
First port of call
The responsibility for informing patients their eyesight no longer conforms to the requirements for holding a UK driving licence often falls to optometrists. In this situation, many understand their role as simply to refer these patients to ophthalmologists within larger hospital units, but what more can be done to facilitate this often emotional and sometimes traumatic period of adjustment?
Being aware of the larger picture
Firstly, as eye care professionals you need to understand and be empathetic to just what a wrench the loss of a licence can be for drivers. Many will worry about becoming a burden and dependent on others, and this fear will often be compounded by fears of further deterioration in their sight. For others, who perhaps live in remote areas or who depend upon a car for work, there will be fears about the very real impacts on their lives and livelihoods that not being able to drive may have.
Being aware of referral services
Beyond demonstrating a sensitivity to your patients’ concerns, you need to be fully informed about appropriate referral services, so that you can seamlessly connect them to local and national sight loss organisations such as the RNIB, Sightline, local sensory impairment teams, local sight loss charities, Eye Clinic Liaison Officers and the Macular Society. These organisations will have trained advisors able to talk patients through the practical adjustments they may need to make, and to help them with the emotional issues they need to process.
Practical support and advice
Part of the sight loss organisation’s job will be to provide practical mobility advice to minimise the impacts of no longer being able to drive. This may be as simple and straightforward as how to access public transport in the local area, or ride-sharing Apps such as Uber. It may also involve providing information on the financial assistance available to cover additional transportation costs. They will provide advice and guidance for these patients surrounding things like Access to Work, welfare benefits, emotional support, peer support groups etc.
Thinking outside the box
They will also be able to offer lots of practical support on low vision issues less directly related to physical mobility, but which may be of equal importance after a low vision diagnosis. Many patients, for example, will not be aware of additional support they may require and be entitled to. This may include Vision Rehabilitation Workers or modifications to living spaces that enable them to continue to live independent lives.
Emotional support and encouragement
An Eye Clinic Liaison Officer’s role is to offer so much more than simply practical advice, of course. Advisors will be trained to provide the emotional support that many patients experiencing low vision, and fearful of the consequences of further deterioration in their sight, will require.
Many organisations will have sensory teams specialising in a combination of practical support and will be able to offer the sorts of holistic rehabilitation services that are most beneficial to patients. This combination of informed assistance and emotional support allows patients to regain confidence along with their independence.
Visualise Training and Consultancy has created a free innovative resource pack which makes it easier for eyecare professionals to refer their patients to sight loss services which can be downloaded at https://visualisetrainingandconsultancy.com/seeing-beyond-the-eyes/