How can eye tests be made better for people with complex needs?

Post date: 
Wednesday, 1 November 2017
June Neil, RNIB's National training and development manager

Dispensing opticians play an important role in eye examinations, but often don't feel confident when supporting a person with complex needs. June Neil explains more.

I work as a National Training and Development Manager within RNIB’s Adult Social Care team. Over the last five years, I’ve trained hundreds of professionals about sight loss and complex needs. 

People with complex needs are those with learning disabilities including autism, who have had a stroke or have dementia. In these cases there can be difficulties in recognising when they might have sight loss and in communication. 

It is therefore very important that dispensing opticians are confident to adapt their usual examination to suit different patients. However, only a small proportion of a dispensing optician’s curriculum is devoted to complex needs. 

It is estimated that at least 250,000 people in the UK are living with both sight loss and dementia. Also, up to 70 per cent of people who survive a stroke have difficulty seeing or processing visual information. 

Excellent communication is key 

It is important to communicate clearly throughout the patient’s experience of the exam, including before, during and after the appointment to help promote more positive outcomes.

Dispensing opticians can use the simple acronym ‘OWL’ when communicating, which stands for: observe, wait and listen. If the person doesn’t understand what you’re saying the first time, adapt the approach and try again. But it’s also very important to remember that everyone is different and so what works for one person may not work for another.

But don't just take my word for it

Stuart has a rare type of dementia called posterior cortical atrophy (PCA). In the following film, Stuart and his wife Grace talk about living with Stuart's dementia and sight loss, and the misconceptions about communication that they encounter.

Stuart says: “One of my pet hates is when people say: “Can-you-understand-me? Is-it-all-right-if-I-talk-like-this?” Well, my answer to them is, “You-can-talk-like-that-if-you-want, but you sound like a bit of an idiot!”

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