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Tackling loneliness and isolation among veterans with sight loss.

Scottish War Blinded research into the links between sight loss and loneliness among veterans found that nearly two thirds of respondents said their sight loss had directly contributed to feelings of loneliness. 253 members of the charity took part in the survey, and only 16 had neither experienced loneliness nor accessed services to overcome feelings of loneliness.

The charity also found that many of the drivers for loneliness amongst Scottish War Blinded members are the same as those for other groups in society: problems accessing transport, bereavement and a lack of community facilities.  However the survey indicates there are causes of loneliness which result specifically from vision impairment and members have expressed a wish for more services to tackle these issues.

For members of Scottish War Blinded, the three top causes of loneliness were problems with mobility and accessing transport, other problems including health problems, and vision impairment making it hard to make friends.

The four top interventions to help members overcome feelings of loneliness were support from Scottish War Blinded Outreach Workers, equipment to help with vision impairment, and Scottish War Blinded Centres.

Among the interventions most supported by members who responded to the survey are better support to access transport, more vision impairment support services at a local level, and more befriending services.

Scottish War Blinded also conducted a focus group of members at the charity’s Hawkhead Centre in Paisley along with the Age Scotland Veterans Project, where veterans talked about the challenges of transitioning from militaryduty into civilian life and the need for more support at that time. They also expressed a desire to retain a link with the forces and regiments they had served in, and felt that the services could do more to stay in touch with veterans. More support from local authorities to help people live independently was thought to be important, as was better signposting to services like those provided by Scottish War Blinded and other charities,

Following these findings, and with the number of people with sight loss projected to double over the next two decades in Scotland, Scottish War Blinded is calling for the Scottish Government’s new national strategy on loneliness to include actions to support for people with vision impairment, including more community transport schemes for disabled people, and more vision impairment training in communities and public services.

William “Monty” Montgemerie is a Scottish war Blinded member who attends the Hawkhead Centre, and he has spoken about his experience of loneliness. He said:

“Before I joined Scottish War Blinded, I had carers and help, but I live alone so I was completely alone for most of the time – my family and friends are mostly abroad. I was receiving help but that stopped due to cuts.

“The biggest danger of loneliness is how it makes you feel about yourself. The reality is that you might only speak to your Alexa device for days at a time – wishing her a Merry Christmas and no-one else.

“The Hawkhead Centre has changed my life. Having people to socialise with and activities to do makes a real difference and you take that feeling home with you and it lasts you through the week. I miss the comradery and feeling of family of being in the forces and I have found that here. It was like coming home for me.

Responding to the findings Mark O’Donnell, Chief Executive of Scottish War Blinded and Royal Blind said:

“The impact of sight loss must be part of the national discussion we are having on tackling loneliness in our society and our research shows the extent to which veterans are affected by this issue.

“The survey shows just how valued the services by provided by Scottish War Blinded and other organisations are for our members in helping them overcome feelings of loneliness and isolation. This shows there is much we can do to improve this situation, and that is why the Scottish Government’s consultation on loneliness is welcome.  We hope it leads to initiatives such as more community transport schemes for people with sight loss and action to ensure people with vision impairment can take part in local groups and activities.