Charities announce study into sight loss after stroke

Fight for Sight is partnering with the Stroke Association to test the effectiveness of a treatment for ‘retraining’ the eyes for people who experience a loss of vision after stroke. 

The two charities announced funding for the project on World Stroke Day (29 October 2020).

Hemianopia – the loss of vision or blindness in half the visual field on the right or left side – occurs suddenly in 30 per cent of stroke survivors and can have a devastating impact on their quality of life, stated the charity. Currently, there is no cure and treatment to help those with hemianopia compensate for their sight loss is variable and not standardised in the NHS. This is due to uncertainty about what works best and when is the best time to offer treatment, resulting in unfair differences in the care people receive.

Tara Playle in the hospital with her service dog Flash

Tara Playle had a stroke at the age of 24 that severely affected her sight. She said: “I had to surrender my driving licence and am at risk of tripping due to my limited sight so have to take extra care when I walk about. My limited vision is a hidden result of my stroke as my eyes appear normal. But losing my sight has been a key factor that has taken away my independence. Any research that can better treatment for sight loss due to stroke would be invaluable, and I believe if treatment enabled my sight to be improved I would be able to do a lot more and rely less on other people.”

Visual scanning training encourages stroke survivors to look into the ‘blind’ side of their visual field. This can improve a stroke survivors adaptation to loss of vision. They are asked to repeatedly practice locating targets in both the ‘seeing’ and ‘blind’ sides of their visual field. The study, which will be run by researchers at the University of Liverpool, was designed with the help of five stroke survivors and will use paper-based visual scanning training as it is cost-effective, available to all stroke survivors and it allows them to practice training at home.

In the study, a group of 71 stroke survivors that receive eye scanning training will be compared to a group of stroke survivors that don’t. They’ll be followed for six months to see if the treatment can improve vision, and independence in everyday activities. All the information will be collected during routine eye clinic visits.

Professor Fiona Rowe from the University of Liverpool is leading the study. She said: “This study builds on an initial promising pilot trial and addresses an area of treatment for which there is limited evidence and no standard care in the NHS. Visual scanning training has the potential to benefit stroke survivors by improving their adaptation to hemianopia and it can be done at any time, anywhere. There is also potential for cost savings in the NHS and social care sector through maximising stroke survivors’ use of their remaining vision, and therefore lessening its impact on daily life activities. This treatment is a top priority highlighted by two national surveys involving large numbers of patients and carers.”

The research study is due to get underway on 1 December 2020.