Mark O’Donnell: An active life is possible for older folk with dementia and sight loss

Over the next decades there will be an increasing number of people in ­Scotland who live with sight loss, and this is largely as the result of our ­ageing population.

A combination of sight loss and dementia can be hard to live with
A combination of sight loss and dementia can be hard to live with

Age is an important factor in increasing risk of sight loss, and the Scottish Vision Strategy highlights that one in eight over-75s and one in three over-90s have serious sight loss.

There around 188,000 people ­living in Scotland today with significant sight loss, and it is projected to hit almost 400,000 by 2030.

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An ageing population also means an increasing number of ­people ­living with dementia, and we ­estimate that today in Scotland there are at least 12,500 people ­living with both.

Mark ODonnell, chief executive, Royal Blind and Scottish War Blinded

Royal Blind runs Scotland’s only two specialist residential care homes for older people with sight loss, and many of our residents also have a diagnosis of dementia.

We want to work with others to develop our understanding of how we provide tailored care that meets the needs of people with dementia and sight loss to ensure they can live well with both conditions.

Ensuring staff have the right ­levels of training and awareness to ­provide care in a way which meets the their needs is vital, but ensuring residents have meaningful activities they enjoy in care homes is also important for their quality of life. We are delighted to be working with the Life Changes Trust to research how best we can provide care for ­people with dementia and sight loss, and ensure that the activities we organise in our homes meet their needs.

Our dementia and sight loss project was launched earlier this month at Jenny’s Well, Royal Blind’s specialist care home in Paisley.

During the two-year project, made possible by £20,000 funding from the Life Changes Trust through the National Lottery Community Fund, Royal Blind will research what ­activities in care homes people with sight loss and dementia find most rewarding and how these activities can be tailored to their needs.

We will take the project forward by speaking to the residents ­themselves, finding out what they most enjoy, how they prefer activities to be organised, when and where they should take place, and changing the activities we provide to reflect what residents have enjoyed most.

We believe it is an important aspect of respecting the rights of people with dementia and sight loss in care homes that activities and care is arranged with them, not only for them.

Many people with dementia enjoy reminiscence through looking at photographs or watching films.

But since this can be challenging for people with sight loss, Royal Blind has developed a tasting activity for residents where they can take part in reminiscence through sampling traditional local foods. This is just one example of tailoring activities to meet the specific needs of people with dementia and sight loss.

We also look forward to sharing the learning we develop through the project and Royal Blind will produce learning resources for other care ­providers supporting people living with sight loss and dementia.

Older people with dementia and sight loss can still enjoy a good ­quality of life and take part in the activities they enjoy.

This is reflected in the words of Ina, a resident at Jenny’s Well, who has dementia and sight loss. She said: “Jenny’s Well is a wonderful home that has helped me gain independence back.

“The staff are excellent and very helpful. One of the best things is that there is always something going on. Sometimes there is a walking group, or we will go out to a local pub or café.”

We want more people with dementia and sight loss to have positive experiences like this.

That is why we are looking forward to the next two years of developing and sharing learning in what will be an important area of care for an increasing number of people in ­Scotland in the future.

Mark O’Donnell, chief executive, Royal Blind and Scottish War Blinded.