An eye test doesn’t just check to see whether you need glasses – it’s also a vital check on the health of your eyes.
Everyone aged 60 and over qualifies for a free NHS-funded sight test every 2 years – if you are under 60, you may still be eligible for a free test.
A sight test checks your vision straight ahead, as well as your peripheral vision. The test also looks for age-related changes, as well as eye conditions such as cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma, which can lead to sight loss.
These conditions can be detected at an early stage, usually before you’ve even noticed that anything is wrong.
How often should I get my eyes tested?
You should have an eye test every 2 years or as often as your optician advises.
Make sure you get a regular check, regardless of whether you live at home or in a care home, even if you think your sight is fine. If you notice any changes in your vision, get it checked as soon as possible.
If you're not happy with the service from your optician, talk to them first. If this doesn't resolve things, contact the Optical Complaints Service.
If your eye test indicates that you need glasses, the optician is legally obliged to give you a prescription, showing the type and strength of lenses you need. You can use this prescription to buy glasses from any supplier.
Wherever you buy your glasses, make sure you have the right lenses to correct or reduce your sight problems - wearing the wrong ones may mean you’re more likely to get eye strain, misjudge kerbs, or trip over obstacles.
Talk to your optician about the most suitable lenses for your needs. There’s a wide range of different lenses – bifocals, trifocals and varifocals – which can save you from needing several different pairs of glasses, but can make it harder for you to change focus and may make you more likely to fall.
Lenses can also come with various extras:
- Tinted lenses cut down on glare, but make sure they don’t affect your ability to see clearly
- Scratch-resistant lenses are less likely to get damaged
- Clear reaction lenses darken when you go outside and lighten when you go indoors or into shade.
Don’t be tempted to buy ready-made reading glasses from a supermarket or pharmacy. It’s rare for both your eyes to need exactly the same amount of correction and they’re often less durable than prescription glasses.
Registering as blind or partially sighted
If you have serious sight loss, you can register with your local council as blind or partially sighted.
Being registered as blind doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t see at all – most people who are registered blind do still have some useful vision.
To register, ask your doctor or optician to refer you to an eye specialist, who will examine your eyes to see if you’re eligible.
You don’t have to register, but it does have some advantages. You will be entitled to concessions, such as:
In addition, a claim for disability benefits may be strengthened if you’re registered as blind or partially sighted.
It’s easy to ignore the quality of your lighting at home, but at the age of 60, your eyes need three times the amount of light that you needed at 20 years of age.
Follow these simple tips to make the most of your lighting at home.
- Keep your windows clean and pull the curtains back as far as possible.
- Consider switching away from curtains to blinds, which make it easier to control the light that comes into your home.
- Make sure you have good lighting at the top and bottom of stairs.
- Use a flexible table lamp for reading or close work.
- Where possible, opt for fluorescent lamps - they're very efficient, produce a lot of light, but very little heat.
Get more in-depth advice about lighting around the home, when you have sight loss from The Thomas Pocklington Trust.
Practical aids for daily living
There are a number of optical aids that can help improve your vision: you’re most likely to need different types for specific activities, such as reading a book or watching television.
The simplest optical aids are special magnifiers, which can help with tasks such as reading a newspaper. Magnifiers may be hand-held, have their own stand, or may be built into your glasses.
Reading frames or ‘typoscopes’ are useful to reduce glare and concentrate vision on the area of print being read.
There are also lots of gadgets and equipment that can help you lead an independent life. For example, a talking watch, or one with a large face, will make telling the time easier, and talking kitchen scales can help with cooking.
For advice on optical aids, ask your doctor or eye specialist to refer you to a low-vision clinic. These are usually based in hospitals, where specialist staff can assess which optical aids would help you most and suggest ways to make the best possible use of the sight you have. They can usually loan any equipment to you for you to try out.
Accessible books, newspapers and games
If your eyesight has deteriorated to the point where you’re no longer able to enjoy reading, there are accessible alternatives.
Large-print books and talking books are available through local libraries. You can also get large-print games, such as:
- playing cards
- bingo sets
- Find out more from the RNIB
The British Wireless for the Blind Fund can supply free radios and audio equipment to people who are registered as sight-impaired or severely sight-impaired, and in financial need.