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Learning to live a long life

While glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration may simply be part of the ageing process for some people, optometry has a priceless role in supporting patients, explains Henrietta Alderman, chief executive of the AOP

19 Jul 2019 by Henrietta Alderman

We are living longer in the Western world and this can mean many active years of well-earned retirement. But it does bring challenges too; none more so than in eye care.

Refractive correction can, of course, play a great part in quality of life for older people, as it can for everyone else, but it is also an important factor in safety. For example, preventing repeated falls can add five years of independent life. The AOP was among the organisations that ensured that National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines on falls prevention include assessment of visual impairment.

However, for some people, an eye condition, such as glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), will simply be part of the ageing process and they will need to adapt to life with reduced vision. Signposting people towards the charities and statutory services that support people with low vision is a way of cementing your practice’s place in the local health and care system, as well as showing your continuing care for your patients.

“Ophthalmology has become the largest outpatient specialty in the NHS”


Ophthalmology, meanwhile, has become the largest outpatient specialty in the NHS and we hear constant stories about the squeeze on waiting times and the postcode lottery for access to care such as cataract surgery. We know that much of the pressure can be relieved with judicious use of community optometry as well as ophthalmology and optometry partnerships.

The LOC Support Unit continues to make great strides in securing locally commissioned services. Referral refinement, Minor Eye Condition Services, community follow-up and long-term management and monitoring can all contribute by providing high quality care and expertise closer to patient’s homes. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have examples of practice that English clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) could learn from. Technology will also play its part in the advancement of treatments, as well as the development of new drug therapies.

“The AOP’s members can make a great difference to the experience of getting old for their patients and we are here to support them in that”

Safeguarding patients

Whatever your mode of practice, you will probably already be feeling the general trend towards an older customer base, in line with the ageing population. For some, this might be an increase in the need for domiciliary care in patients’ own homes as well as care homes. For others it will be the need for additional chair time and complex issues. More patients will have a range of long-term conditions and more will have confusion or dementia. For community and hospital optometrists, this presents a new set of challenges and requirements. The AOP provides guidance on the particular challenges of domiciliary work and on safeguarding patients at risk of harm. Our safe practice in eye testing guidance offers useful tips on managing the practice’s appointment book so that every patient gets the time they need with a clinical professional.

Keeping up to date with developments is essential, and the pages of this journal go a long way to helping you do that. The AOP package of CET, both face to face and online, includes many opportunities to keep skills honed and develop additional ones.

The American broadcaster Andy Rooney said: “It's paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn't appeal to anyone.” Of course we can’t have one without the other. The AOP’s members can make a great difference to the experience of getting old for their patients and we are here to support them in that.

Image credit: Getty/Rhys Hayward

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