Mark O’Donnell: Number of visually impaired elderly needing care will only increase

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon opened the Royal Blind and Scottish War Blinded's new care home, Jenny's Well in Paisley, which offers specialised support, but more of these facilities will be needed
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon opened the Royal Blind and Scottish War Blinded's new care home, Jenny's Well in Paisley, which offers specialised support, but more of these facilities will be needed
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We often hear about the difficulties and problems faced by the health and social care sector in times of increased demand and dwindling resources. Worryingly we have seen reports of care homes closing or providers not even bidding for local authority contracts. So Royal Blind was pleased to be able to bring a positive development in the midst of these challenges when the First Minister joined us to open our new care home, Jenny’s Well in Paisley.

Only the second specialist care home for older people with sight loss in Scotland, alongside Royal Blind’s care home Braeside House in Edinburgh, Jenny’s Well has been designed specifically to meet the needs of vision impaired older people. Residents at Braeside House were involved in planning the design of Jenny’s Well to ensure it provides the best environment possible. This includes a sensory garden, specialist lighting to reduce glare, tactile signage, and access to specialist equipment.

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

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

It is challenging to establish new facilities like Jenny’s Well in the current climate for funding of health and social care services, but the reality is that we are going to need more specialist provision for older people with sight loss. There are around 188,000 people living in Scotland with significant sight loss, around three quarters of whom are over 65. Sight loss is projected to double over the next two decades in Scotland, to almost 400,000 people. One in eight people over 75 and one in three who are over 90 have serious sight loss. We know that older people who do not receive the support they need to manage their sight loss will be at greater risk of other health problems, both physically from accidents and hip fractures, but also emotionally as vision impairment can lead to loneliness and depression.

We understand that older people who require care often have a range of conditions. Many of the residents of our homes also have a diagnosis of dementia. But sight loss brings specific care needs and can involve a range of conditions, sometimes complex. That is why it is important there is a greater awareness of vision impairment in our health and social care services, not only in residential care but in care at home as well. Many older people who are vision impaired are living in their own homes, and many will need support to continue to live independently and manage a range of health conditions.

We hope to work alongside care providers and others with expertise in sight loss to share learning and raise awareness of how best to support vision impaired older people. Identifying when an older person has sight loss and ensuring they have the tailored care they need can have a big impact on their quality of life.

The work needs to begin now to ensure that our care services of the future will be able to meet the increased need for specialist care for sight loss.

The Scottish Government’s See Hear strategy is being taken forward to ensure that we have better services for people with vision and hearing impairment. For this strategy to succeed it must be part of a wider approach where as a society we are placing the right priority on our health and social care services. This means integration working effectively, staff properly incentivised and care services no longer being the poor relation of acute care.

If local care strategies are only driven by securing the lowest possible costs, we cannot hope to provide the tailored care people with sight loss and other conditions need. This can make the difference between an older person with sight loss staying in their room or stranded at home, isolated and at increased risk of further health problems or maintaining their independence and having a good quality of life.

To meet the challenge of securing that standard of care which all older people deserve, including those with sight loss, we need to have a national discussion on how we provide the investment our future care services will require. Royal Blind looks forward to being part of this debate.

We will make the case for the positive difference which specialist care can make for the thousands of older people living in Scotland with vision impairment today.

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