‘It’s awful not having your sight... you never really get used to it’

Anne Walmsley and Margaret Field both suffer from macular degeneration
Anne Walmsley and Margaret Field both suffer from macular degeneration
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Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of sight loss and affects 600,000 in the UK alone.

As Macular Week begins on Monday, The Gazette speaks to two local women who warn others to get sight tests before it’s too late.

Linda Sethi  eye clinic liaison officer for N-Vision.

Linda Sethi eye clinic liaison officer for N-Vision.

Margaret Field, 86, can’t see faces any more.

Age related macular degeneration has claimed her central vision.

She admits people try to make her feel better with the typically Lancastrian response: “You’re not missing ‘owt’”.

But she is missing – out…

An image of an eye with macular degeneration.

An image of an eye with macular degeneration.

Margaret explains: “People mean well but I do miss faces. I can see hair and an outline. I’d love to see a face, eyes, smiles.”

Her poignant statement comes as national Macular Week highlights the importance of regular eye tests to keep macular degeneration at bay … along with a campaign for a cure for the disease.

It is the most common cause of sight loss in developed countries.

It affects 600,000 in the UK alone. Many more could be oblivious to the fact they have AMD until it’s too late to do something about it.

Margaret Field

Margaret Field

Margaret’s a regular at N-Vision, the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind, established in 1910 to offer sight loss support to blind and visually impaired across all three local boroughs.

Support takes many forms, but Margaret really values the company of others who know how it feels to be registered blind or severely visually impaired.

At the social club held at the society’s Sharples Hall Margaret has made friends with Anne Walmsley, 87.

Anne has dry macular degeneration, or as she puts it: “The one they can’t do anything about.” She also says: “You really miss seeing faces. It’s just basic human contact, really.”

Margaret remembers the precise day she was registered as blind – December 21, 2007.

“My husband was diagnosed with cancer. One week he was looking after me, the next week I was looking after him. I stopped in bed doing quite a lot of crying that year.”

Margaret has worn glasses since her 20s. “There was nothing untoward, no pain, but one day I noticed I couldn’t thread a needle, and I couldn’t see colours the same.”

As a former professional seamstress, Margaret knew something was up.

“I got my eyes tested and was referred to the hospital and then learned the worst. I had laser treatment for two years.

“It’s awful not having your sight. You never really get used to it.

“It makes a huge difference to your life. I used to bake. I don’t any more.

“I use a microwave all the time now. It’s safer than using an oven.

“I was always sewing or gardening or knitting fancy jumpers – Fair Isle, cable, Arran.

“Now the telly’s always on although I can’t see it. I look like a nodding dog each time I watch it as I’m trying to see it – you get to recognise people on your favourite programmes by their voices.

“I’ve told my son and daughter to get to the opticians and make sure they have their sight tested regularly.

“But it makes you appreciate what you’ve got left. I can still see flowers. My daughter has raised the flower beds. And I can see sky. So long as I can still see a bit of beautiful blue sky I’m happy. “

Both Margaret and Anne can also see the red of the poppies on which they are working – knitting in support of the #TheGreatBTHKnit. The BTH is short for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals and both are veterans of the medical retina and allied eye clinics at the busy NHS Foundation Trust.

Together they are doing their bit to help the trust create at least 30,000 poppies to mark the First World War’s centenary with a temporary memorial in November at the hospital’s main entrance.

The poppies, knitted by volunteers such as Anne and Margaret, will later be sold to raise money for the Royal British Legion.

Anne was diagnosed in 2010. “I lost my husband and my sight that year. I was doing everything for him. It was such a shock.I also got diabetes – and a cataract but if I had that dealt with it could cost what little sight I’ve got left.”

Anne has worn glasses since the age of eight for short sightedness but admits she didn’t have eye tests as regularly as she should have.

“I haven’t been myself for an eye test for four years because they would just refer me to the hospital and the hospital has discharged me.

“But I tell my friends – because the test can pick up eye problems before you’re aware of any symptoms.”

Linda Sethi, eye clinic liaison officer for N-Vision explains: “Many of our existing clients suffer from AMD and have benefited from our support.

“Whether it’s a free assessment for a free magnifier or support at the hospital when going through treatment and consultations we are here to support you.

“We have a very active sight loss support group who meet at Sharples Hall every two months where you will meet others struggling with the same frustrations and happy to share their coping strategies.

“We have groups which meet monthly across the Fylde coast in various locations where a member of staff would be on hand to answer any questions over a cup of coffee.”

“For information on all our events please give us a call.

“Do not sit at home worrying -we are here to help. If you or someone you know suffers from macular degeneration, please get in touch with us here at N-Vision.

“Call 01253 362696.”

Facts about AMD

- AMD affects the middle part of your vision.

It can start as early as in your 50s.

It isn’t painful and doesn’t affect the appearance of your eyes.

It doesn’t cause total blindness, but can make everyday tasks such as reading, watching TV, driving and recognising people’s faces difficult.

- Symptoms include seeing straight lines as wavy, colours less bright than they were, or fuzzy distorted central vision.

- There are two types of macular degeneration…. Dry and Wet. The dry type develops very slowly and causes a gradual change to vision.

For the dry type there is presently no treatment but aids such as magnifiers and good lighting can help reduce the effect on your life.

The wet type can develop very quickly causing serious changes to your central vision in a short period of time over days or weeks.

For the wet type there are eye injections which are much less frightening than they sound. Time is of the essence for this treatment therefore it is very important that you seek attention urgently.

Don’t wait to see if things settle down as a quick trip to an optometrist would enable them to fast track you up to the hospital if appropriate.

- People over 60 are at greater risk, smokers have a 2-3 times higher risk than people who have never smoked, avoid packaged or processed foods, prolonged sun exposure.

Obesity can be another factor – and a family history of AMD.

- Reduce the risk: quit smoking, eat a well-balanced diet including fresh fruit and vegetables, kale, spinach, broccoli, peas are good for eye health as they have high levels of antioxidants.

Salmon, tuna and walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids which may lower your risk.

Wear sunglasses outdoors to block UV and blue light. Increase lighting levels at home where it helps you cook, read or get about.

Above all, have regular eye tests as AMD can be detected at an annual eye examination.

- For more information on the condition call the Macular Society – which has a range of support services and a helpline on 0300 3030 111