Living with visual impairment
In National Health Surveys (NHS) conducted in 2017–18 through the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), self-reported data reveals that over 55% of the total population – that’s over 13 million Australians – have one or more long-term vision or visual impairments. These conditions range from short or long-sightedness and other manageable visual problems to complete or partial blindness.
This article looks at the wide range of vision disorders and the impact they can have.
What is visual impairment?
By definition, visual impairment is the partial or full loss of sight in one or both eyes. Impairment may be the result of disease or injury, may progress over time, and may be permanent or can be corrected with visual aids or surgery.
There are many types of vision impairment, each with a different effect or impact on an individual’s ability to see, and on their mobility and other abilities and life skills. Some vision loss can be prevented, while other conditions may be hereditary or develop as people age.
Long-term eye conditions are closely associated with increasing age and around two thirds of people with vision impairment are over the age of 65.
The major causes and effects of vision impairment are:
age-related macular degeneration – causes distortion or loss of central vision in older people, resulting in difficulties with activities such as reading and recognising faces.
diabetic retinopathy – symptoms include blurring and patchiness in vision. The underlying cause is diabetes.
glaucoma – causes tunnel vision and affects safe mobility and driving.
cataracts – cause blurring of vision and increased sensitivity to glare, but can be corrected by surgery.
refractive error – half of all vision impairment in Australia is due to under-corrected refractive error which covers long-sightedness, short-sightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia. Refractive errors can be improved by wearing glasses.
vision loss in children – there are many diseases, defects, malformations, infections and disorders that can affect the visual system in babies and infants.
Vision impairment in older Australians
Among older Australians, the major causes of vision impairment are age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. The major causes of blindness are AMD. The ABS says that there are over 130,000 Australians living with complete or partial blindness.
Vision impairment in infants and children
The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children estimates that four out of every 10,000 children born in Australia will be diagnosed with severe vision impairment or blindness by their first birthday.
Seeing is, of course, an important way for infants to learn so visual impairment can influence the normal development of skills such as body control, hand use, language and social behaviours. Vision impairment is often associated with other disabilities and children who may also have hearing impairment, or what is now called deafblind, face further educational and developmental challenges.
What are the implications of being vision impaired?
Whether blind or vision impaired from birth or experiencing gradual or sudden loss of sight later in life, vision loss can have a dramatic impact on people’s lives. Everyday tasks may be challenging or seem impossible, but with support, advice and a range of adaptive solutions, many can live independently and not need to give up the activities they enjoy.
Adaptations to support everyday tasks and living may include:
- braille – vital for literacy for children who are blind
- magnification devices and large print formats
- the use of task lighting and contrast
- using other senses including touch, hearing, taste and smell
- adaptive equipment and technology such as talking and audible devices, screen readers, voice to text software
- decluttering and re-organisation at home
- online and phone banking
- support and training from an Orientation and Mobility Specialist
- a guide dog may help to achieve freedom, mobility and independence
Living independently with Forsight
At Forsight, we are committed to supporting vision impaired residents to lead independent and rewarding lives. We work to ensure that every resident is connected to the community and supported to participate in every opportunity.
To discover how Forsight supports your move to independent living, please visit here.
Information for this article is drawn from a number of online resources. While we take care to include accurate and up to date facts and figures, we always recommend that you undertake your own research into the medical conditions we might write about.
Some of our sources: