Mobility Study of People with Sight Loss Launched

Posted on: 09 August 2012

One third of older people with sight loss cannot navigate their local area independently, according to new research. The National Mobility Report: mobility experiences and perceptions of blind and vision impaired persons is a study of 564 people registered as blind who were interviewed about their experiences of mobility by staff of the Discipline of Occupational Therapy, Trinity College Dublin. It was recently launched by its sponsors NCBI, the national sight loss agency and Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.

More than one third of older people with sight loss never go in their local area without a sighted guide. People over the age of 65, many of whom have lost their sight due to age-related eye conditions, reported that poor design of their local environments and public transport were the main obstacles to getting out and about independently. The study found that reduced mobility greatly affects quality of life and limits opportunities for social participation among older people.

The report written by TCD’s Dr Siobhan Mac Cobb, recommends the development of a national vision strategy to ensure that a multi-system approach is taken, and greater involvement by occupational therapists and physiotherapists to better address the problems of mobility in older people with sight loss with other health and disability issues.

While 46% of participants 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, whille managing other health, disability and age-related issues.

Des Kenny, chief executive of NCBI, notes that while older people report difficulty in getting about indepentently, they are not keen to take up opportunities for mobility training when offered: “The report shows that 92% of older participants would not consider mobility training as they feel that they are managing without it. They may get by with some informal training, with support from family and friends or it may be that they find the idea of formal training too daunting if they have other health or disability concerns, as 59% reported.”

Organisations like NCBI and Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind (IGDB) need to look at this poor uptake in mobility training in more detail, according to IGDB chief executive Padraig Mallon: “Respondents in this study said that they didn’t take up mobility training because they manage with the help of a sighted guide. Yet only 6% of those who use a sighted guide 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.”