The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is highlighting the role that technology can play in enabling blind and partially sighted people to successfully manage their diabetes as part of Diabetes Week, which will take place this year from 14 – 20 June.
As part of this, the charity is also reminding people of the importance of attending retinal screening appointments.
Diabetes Week is an annual campaign organised by Diabetes UK to raise awareness of the condition. The theme for this year’s week focuses on telling #DiabetesStories from all corners of the UK.
Joanna Penn from Lowestoft in Suffolk has an eye condition called diabetic retinopathy. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2002 at the age of 18 and started having laser treatment due to the severity of her eye condition in 2009. However, Joanna has now stopped this treatment as she has received the maximum amount of laser possible.
Technology helps Joanna, who needs to test her blood sugar up to eight times a day, manage her diabetes. She uses a blood glucose monitor called Contour with Bluetooth capacity and a flash glucose monitoring system.
Joanna said: “The Contour monitor talks to my phone, which then reads the information out to me, or it’ll be in a large enough print that I can see.
“I also use what is known as a FreeStyle Libre, a flash glucose monitoring system. I have a little sensor in my arm and using the Libre app on my phone. I scan this sensor eight to ten times a day to monitor my glucose levels. It was quite easy to set up as the app talks you through the process. For me, the Libre has been a big lifesaver because the overall control of my diabetes has gone from poor to good.”
However, Joanna feels more can be done to improve devices that help people with sight loss manage their diabetes. She is due to receive an insulin pump soon and is concerned about the accessibility of this device.
“An insulin pump can be quite fiddly to use. It may be easier for people who still have some sight like me to use one independently, but I think someone who is blind could struggle with it.
“There’s still a lot to be improved. I think the problem is because sight loss is a spectrum it’s about finding that middle ground and developing devices that work for both someone who has got quite a bit of sight or maybe a central loss, and also for someone who is non-light perceptive.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, all routine retinal screening appointments for patients with diabetes were postponed.
However, retinal screening services have resumed in most areas, with safety measures in place, and patients are advised to attend appointments.
There are 3.5 million people in the UK with diabetes, and a further 500,000 live with the condition undiagnosed.
RNIB Specialist Lead for Eye Health, Dr Louise Gow, said:
“The most important thing you can do to prevent sight loss due to diabetic retinopathy is to go to your retinal screening appointments and eye examinations.”
“If you haven’t heard from your local diabetic retinal screening service and you are overdue for an appointment and don’t have a new date for screening, or you are worried about changes to your vision, you should speak to your GP or diabetic nurse. Alternatively, you can attend an NHS eye examination where an eye health check will be carried out. More information about preventing sight loss from diabetes can be found in a free booklet which can be downloaded from RNIB’s website.
“RNIB is here for anybody worried about their vision. Contact our Sight Loss Advice Service on 0303 123 9999 or visit rnib.org.uk/eyehealth.”