Half of people with learning disabilities suffer eye problems

Over half the people with learning disabilities seen in specialist sight tests suffered an eye health issue. And almost two thirds required spectacles, new results from a pilot scheme in London have revealed.

52 per cent of those seen had an eye health problem which could have led to sight loss says the report authors, national charity SeeAbility and the leading eye health organisation, Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU). Experts claim it could lead to reduced independence, poorer quality of life and higher health and social care costs for these individuals. And they are calling on Clinical Commissioning Group to introduce more eye care pathways. Currently, just four CCGs have commissioned the services which offer longer, specially adapted sight tests for people with learning disabilities.

“People with learning disabilities are 10 times more likely to have serious sight problems than other people,” said Katrina Venerus, Managing Director of LOCSU. “The London Tri-Borough pilot identified a high prevalence of treatable eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and keratoconus.”

The concern is that if left unidentified and untreated, these eye conditions will worsen and lead to higher health and social care costs. With so many people with learning disabilities not receiving regular eye care, the risks of sight loss for this group are greatly increased.

“SeeAbility is aware that the standard sight test is not always accessible for people who have learning disabilities. Many people need the optometrist to allow them more time in order to establish their needs, to explain testing procedures and to communicate results in a clear and accessible manner,” explained David Scott-Ralphs, Chief Executive of SeeAbility.

The SeeAbility-led pilot of the LOCSU eye care pathway carried out 104 sight tests in the London Tri-Borough areas of Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham and Westminster. The pathway involves local optometrists providing specially-adapted sight tests, accessible for people with learning disabilities.

The key findings from the Tri-Borough pilot are:

  • 30 per cent of all people were referred on to their GP or Hospital Eye Service for an eye health or other health issue
  • Following their sight test 63 per cent of individuals are wearing prescribed glasses
  • For 50 per cent of people the date of their previous sight test was more than two years ago or unknown

The pilot took place between October 2013 and March 2015 in the Tri-Borough area of Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham and Westminster in London. The pilot was funded with the support of the LOC Central Fund.

To access the Tri-Borough report click here.

The LOCSU Pathway can be seen by clicking here.

SeeAbility eye care resources.