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Last summer Catherine Atkinson was driving her car, watching television and could see her garden bloom. Today she is registered partially sighted, and reading has become almost impossible. Catherine, 77 has been diagnosed with wet macular degeneration.
The rapid deterioration of Catherine’s sight has had a dramatic impact on every aspect of her life, however with the help and support of the North Cumbria Low Vision Service, a service funded by NHS Cumbria she has been able to maintain her independence.
NHS Cumbria is highlighting services available to people with sight loss as part of the National Eye Health week, which runs from September 17-23.
Catherine, from Lowry Hill, Carlisle explained: “I had lost most of my sight in one eye, as I suffered a haemorrhage, but I was still able to see okay with the other. It’s hard to believe that just a year ago I was still driving and able to read my own letters.
“Things started the change in November when I started to notice a deterioration in my sight in both eyes. My GP referred me to the Cumberland Infirmary Carlisle last December where I was diagnosed. I had a series of three injections in my eyes which stabilised the condition, however the deterioration was so rapid my central vision is now very blurred and I have only peripheral sight.
“I thought that was the end of many things for me. Reading a book, no matter how large the print was impossible. I had stopped driving, but I couldn’t see the bus destinations when I used public transport alone. I didn’t think I would be able to carry on doing the daily things I use to do, such as baking or watching the television.
“However in January 2012 my eye specialist at the Infirmary referred me to the Low Vision Service. My first appointment with them was at the Infirmary, where I saw Susan (Armstrong) who showed me all the different types of sight aids available, including talking scales which I have bought for my kitchen.
“Shortly after my first visit the service moved to Carlisle Society for the Blind offices in Brunswick Street.
“Susan and Carol (Telford) who work for the Service showed me the different types of magnifying aids, and loaned me one to use at home and a smaller one I keep in my handbag.
“They also loaned me a special magnifier for seeing bus numbers and reading departure board, and specially designed television magnifier glasses. I was amazed at how many different aids were available to help me make the most of the vision I still have.
“Susan also showed me an electronic magnifier called a mono mouse. I don’t have a computer, but this aid plugs into a normal portable television. You run the mouse of the text and it not only magnifies but also shows it on screen as white letters on a black background which is much easier for me to read. Though they couldn’t loan me a mono mouse, they could let me try it out so I knew it was worth investing in. It has made an amazing amount of difference to me, as before I couldn’t even read my own bank statements or appointment cards and letters. Now I can just run the mono mouse over everything.
“I also go to one of the support groups organised by Carlisle Society for the Blind. The macular degeneration group meets the second Wednesday of each month from 1-3pm at the Carlisle Blind Society. We have speakers and it’s a great way of finding out things, such as the workshops for people with sight loss I’m going to. Here I found out about Kindle readers which have audio.
“As well as sharing information about new aids and what other people find useful, it’s also good to go to a group where you can meet other people with the same problems as me. I don’t feel alone with my condition, as I did when I was first diagnosed. It’s good to get feedback from others in the group.
“If I hadn’t been to Low Vision I would have been very down about my condition, but thanks to their support I am able to make the most of the vision I have left.”
North Cumbria Low Vision Service provides advice and support to people are experiencing sight loss to enable visually impaired people to lead full and independent lives. Clinics are held at Carlisle Society for the Blind, Workington Community Hospital, Penrith Community Hospital and Keswick Community Hospital.
From advice on the benefit system to providing magnifying aids and training to maintain independence, you can refer yourself, or your optician, doctor, social worker or carer can contact the Low Vision Team on your behalf.
For more advice on the North Cumbria Low Vision Service call Carlisle Society for the Blind on 01228 593104, Eden Sight Support 01768 891724 or West Cumbria Society for the Blind 01946 592474.