The psychological impact of blindness

Losing sight can make a patient feel “broken and no longer whole,” Rosemary Robinson explains


Optometrists were cautioned against letting their own attitudes towards blindness get in the way of patient care during a 100% Optical presentation on vision loss and psychology.

Consultant ophthalmologist, Rosemary Robinson, emphasised that optometrists and ophthalmologists often viewed blindness as the ultimate professional failure.

“Optical professionals react to loss of vision as other health professionals do to loss of life,” Ms Robinson highlighted at the show (4-6 February, London ExCeL).

This sense of guilt was strongest in relation to vision loss from potentially curable conditions, she added.

However, optical professionals should not lose sight of the individual while treating a disease, Ms Robinson emphasised.

“You are not responsible for vision loss but you are responsible for a patient’s overall care and treatment…Even if you can’t make someone see better you can help make their quality of life better.”

During her presentation, The Psychosocial Impact of Vision Loss, Ms Robinson detailed the different ways that blindness could affect a patient.

Some people who experienced vision loss felt broken and no longer whole, she explained.

“Many people have a negative stereotype of a blind person and they self-impose that idea. They see themselves as an outsider and different from the rest of the community,” she highlighted.

This effect on a person’s self-esteem resulted in a patient reassessing their identity.

“When blindness occurs it’s like they’ve lost the previous person they were and they have to come to terms with who the new person with the sight loss is going to become,” Ms Robinson explained.

Patients were often wary about how their vision would change in the future following a diagnosis.

“When losing vision there is often the fear that they will go in to total darkness when, in fact, rarely this is the case,” Ms Robinson added.

Losing the ability to see familiar faces and sights that bring people pleasure was a significant loss, she told delegates at the show.

Although a scene or object could be described to someone with sight loss, it was not the same, Ms Robinson explained.

“It can be very different seeing it in your mind’s eye and it can be a source of frustration,” she highlighted.

Ms Robinson detailed the different phases of coming to terms with sight loss, including trauma, shock and denial, mourning and withdrawal, and succumbing and depression.

The final stage was reassessment and reaffirmation, she added.

In this stage a patient began to view themselves as essentially the same as before their sight loss.

“They just have to deal with life a little differently,” Ms Robinson concluded.