Following on from last week’s blog about diabetes, I recently found out from the Guide Dogs society, that 905,000 in England have diabetic retinopathy. The condition is a potential complication which can accompany diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is damage which is caused to the retina due to high blood glucose levels or high blood pressure. If hyperglycaemia or hypertension persists long-term, the retina’s blood vessels will gradually deteriorate and begin to bleed or abnormally grow. Symptoms do not appear until the later stages, and typically present as blurred or double vision, seeing spots or eye pain (NHS Choices). Blindness may eventually result, and indeed is the main cause of blindness in working age adults (Diabetes UK). To help prevent diabetic retinopathy, it is essential that people with diabetes look after their health through diet, exercise, good blood glucose control and regular annual eye checks.
A representative from the Guide Dogs society visited our university and shared some amazing facts about being visually impaired and having a guide dog. The visitor was accompanied by a beautiful and highly intelligent, fully-trained guide dog called Alfie – a Labrador and Retriever cross. It has generally been found that these two breeds, along with German Shepherds, usually have the best success with guide dog training.
Our visitor told us that a guide dog costs about £50,000 to train and keep, and only 2.5% of people with a visual impairment actually have a guide dog. There is apparently a waiting list and a system of prioritisation, but also there are some people who consciously choose not to have a guide dog. This may be because they prefer to use a stick or a person to guide them, or they may not like dogs or have an allergy to their fur. In view of the last point, Labradoodles have been trained with some degree of success, as poodles are usually beneficial for people who suffer with allergies, as they do not tend to moult hair in the same way as other breeds. The biggest restriction upon providing more guide dogs however, has got to be funding. The Guide Dogs society is solely reliant upon charitable funding, and therefore has to raise money through the generosity of others; either through direct donations, fund-raising events or the sponsorship of guide dog puppies.
Our visitor told us that 76 people are registered with visual impairment or blindness in England every day. There is apparently no obligation for a person to include themselves on the register, although opticians will usually notify the Drivers Vehicle Licensing Authority on their behalf, regarding conditions such as glaucoma. Surprisingly, a person who loses sight in one eye is not classified as being partially sighted, as they usually manage sufficiently with, and adapt to having, just one eye.
As part of the visit I took part in an experiment where I was blindfolded and led by another person. The blindfold was totally black and I could not see a thing. My partner led the way, with me holding on to her elbow with a ‘c’ grip. This is a preferred grip for many blind people, as they can easily let go if necessary, and they have good overall control. Despite this, I felt really disorientated and afraid to walk at my normal pace. It was really strange going up a step; having to put both my feet against the edge of the step before going up. The oddest experience of all however, was going down a sloping ramp, because it made me feel very vulnerable to slipping, as I cautiously felt for the ground with my feet. My partner and I then swapped over, and I talked her around the same route while she held on to my elbow. She also found it fairly scary, but seemed to take the step more confidently than I did. Afterwards we rewarded ourselves with a pat and stroke of the beautiful Alfie. I could have really cuddled him, but I felt that it was important that I showed some restraint and respect for his role as a guide dog!
To find out more about the fantastic work being done, please visit The Guide Dogs, http://www.guidedogs.org.uk/microsites/sponsor-a-puppy?gclid=CPj7o-mcz78CFYIewwod4KEAQA#.U8lDuVJOUth
For more information on sight, visit: Diabetes.co.uk, http://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-complications/retinopathy-symptoms.html
Royal National Institute for the Blind, www.rnib.co.uk
NHS Diabetic Eye Screening Programme, http://diabeticeye.screening.nhs.uk/diabetic-retinopathy