Coping in the darker days with sight loss

Summer has gone, there’s a chill in the air and carpet of leaves on the ground. As the seasons change, we turn up the heating and prepare for cosy nights in. This time of year can be a welcomed change, but for those suffering from sight loss, carrying on in day to day life can become difficult.

Our Eye Clinic Liaison Officer (ECLO), Corinna Swift, has been supporting St Paul’s Eye Unit's patients with help and advice on how to cope with sight loss nearly six years. Born with congenital cataracts, a clouding of the eye's natural lens at birth, Corina was diagnosed with severe myopia, a severe level of short-sightedness at three years old. She was registered blind at just 16 years of age, and now, age 54, has no vision in her right eye and extremely limited vision in her left with an extensive loss of peripheral vision.

Corinna Swift, Eye Clinic Liaison Officer at St Paul's Eye Unit
Corinna Swift, Eye Clinic Liaison Officer at St Paul's Eye Unit

This time of year and cause stress and anxiety for many people who have lost all or part of their vision, not only because of the lack of daylight, but from the adverse weather we can face. So how do you cope with this seasonal change? Corina shares her advice and experiences on how to cope:

“As the nights draw in, this can have a huge effect on people’s lives. For most of us, it’s dark when we get up and go to work and dark when we come home. Lots of people who suffer with sight loss experience reduced vision at night, and with darkness setting in from 4pm, they might not feel like they are safe or able to go out and do what they normally would.

“Going out for a run or walk can suddenly make you feel uneasy because of your limited sight, socialising in a new environment may feel impossible, and even getting through the daily to-do list can seem unachievable. Some people may even think that their vision is getting worse because of the lack of daylight, but there are things we can do to make our lives easier.

Use the daylight hours

“Try and do as much as you can in the natural light. Whether that’s going shopping, meeting friends or exercising, doing as much as you can in the daylight will make sure you aren’t restricting yourself from what you enjoy doing. It might not always be possible to do what we need or want to do in the daylight, but try speaking to your employer or anyone else you have a commitment to to see what adjustments can be made.

Training, aids and accessories

“Mobility training can be really helpful in the autumn and winter months. It’s designed to develop or relearn the skills and concepts a blind or visually impaired person needs to travel safely and independently. For advice on how to access mobility training, ask your local social services or charities that deal with sight loss. If you aren’t sure who to contact, search who is near your post code.

“Carrying a small, handheld touch or wearing reflective clothing can also be really helpful when you are out in dusk or the dark. You can get torches that clip onto your bag or keys, I have on clipped onto my lanyard at work and I use it when using a door key pad.

“You might not need a cane in the day, but you could benefit from using one in the dark. I know that not everyone wants to use a cane, but they really do save lives and are well worth using if you struggle in the dark.”

Plan ahead

“One of the best things you can do to help is to plan and get organised. You can come up with your own coping strategies that work for you, but if I am invited out in the evening, I’ll make sure I know what the event or activity is, how I’ll get there, where I’ll be sitting, if there are any steps I need to be aware of, if there is parking or public transport etc.  

“Finding out as much information as you can about where you are going and getting your bearings in a new environment will give you more confidence in getting to, from and around the space.

“We need to remember that we are not debilitated by our sight loss, and we need to make sure that our environment doesn’t either, which is why it’s so important to plan ahead.

Communication is key

"Anyone living with sight loss knows that we have to change the way we do things. We have to forward plan, think about things that others may take for granted, and sometimes ask for support.

“There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t tell anyone that I was registered blind. I didn’t want to give in, feel different, be labelled, or face any stigma. When I started to open up to people and acknowledge my sight loss, it really helped me in my life.

“Being vocal to people about your struggles is absolutely key. Even though we might not want to admit our difficulties, being open and educating the people around us will only help. We don’t need to feel vulnerable when there are people around who can help. Even if it’s a friend meeting you when you get off the bus or someone letting you know there are steps in a darkened area, the more people that know you have sight loss, the more support you’ll receive - and the better our lives become.

Sight loss isn’t life threatening, but it is life changing

Living with sight loss through the darker days can have a big impact, but by putting things in place for us to carry on with our day to day lives, these little changes can go a long way.

Never be afraid to ask for help and support. Remember, there is nothing you can’t do if you have sight loss, it just means that sometimes, we do things differently.

If you, or the person you care for, is experiencing sight loss, take a look at the information and support we offer.