Why is this research needed?
Two thirds of stroke survivors have problems with their vision immediately after their stroke - around half will be left with long-term problems.
Stroke can cause lots of different problems with vision such as:
- Visual field loss – where people can’t see a section of their field of vision.
- Difficulty moving the eyes.
- Sensitivity to light.
- The brain can find it difficult to make sense of the information it receives from the eyes
Vision problems after stroke have a major impact on stroke survivor’s day-to-day lives. Many people have difficulty reading and may not be able to drive anymore – this can reduce their independence and may mean they’re not able to return to work. Stroke survivors with visual field loss also have a lower quality of life and poorer recovery.
Many stroke survivors are left with unmet needs relating to their vision problems. Stroke survivors, their family members and healthcare professionals have said treating vision problems after stroke is one of the most important areas for research to focus on.
Research can help to:
- Provide evidence to tell us what the best treatments to offer stroke survivors with vision problems are.
- Improve services across the UK, which are very variable right now.
- Improve specialist training on vision problems in healthcare professionals on stroke teams.
What is the research aiming to do?
Dr Hazelton has designed a programme of research that she hopes will improve the lives of stroke survivors with vision problems. The programme is split into two main areas of work.
Testing different treatments
Dr Hazelton will test three different treatments for stroke survivors with vision problems to find out if they are helpful and whether they could be used by the NHS.
- Computer-based vision scanning training: this teaches users more effective eye movements and is designed to be used by stroke survivors at home
- "Vertical-reading": in her previous work Dr Hazelton found that stroke survivors with visual field loss struggled to see a complete line of text when reading. She’ll develop and evaluate this treatment, which teaches stroke survivors to rotate the page by up to 90° so they can see the whole line of text.
- A self-management programme: to help stroke survivors adjust to and manage their vision problems. Dr Hazelton has found that many stroke survivors feel isolated in their vision problems and have unmet needs relating to changes in social activities and relationships, and psychological effects of stroke. She’ll develop this programme in partnership with stroke survivors and healthcare professionals.
Improving clinical services
Dr Hazelton wants to improve training for healthcare professionals on the effects that stroke can have on vision, and improve their understanding of how best to support and care for stroke survivors with vision problems.
She’ll work with stroke therapists (such as occupational therapists) to understand what training they need in vision-related problems. She’ll develop a training programme based on this and then investigate.
She’ll then investigate the difference that this training programme has had.
Using this information, she’ll develop training for student opticians to help them provide better community-based care for stroke survivors with vision problems.
What benefits could this have for people affected by stroke?
Dr Hazelton hopes that improving the training available for healthcare professionals working with stroke survivors will increase their understanding of how best to support and treat vision problems.
Testing new treatments will also improve our understanding of what treatments are best to support stroke survivors with vision problems and allow healthcare professionals to offer better treatments in the future.
Ultimately, Dr Hazelton hopes that this work will improve daily life for stroke survivors, supporting them to rebuild their lives and achieve the best recovery from their rehabilitation.
About the researcher
Dr Hazelton is an optometrist - a healthcare professional who examines eyes to look for vision problems. She worked as an optometrist for nearly 20 years before deciding to focus on a career in research. During this programme of research, she will spend a small amount of time working clinically, which will help to keep her research focused on patient’s priorities and getting findings into clinical practice.
Her experience working as an optometrist led to her interest in improving the lives of stroke survivors with vision problems. She told us: “From my first year in practice I became very aware of the disparity in my ability to provide care for stroke survivors, compared to those with visual impairment due to ocular disease. There were very few treatments I could offer, little information to provide and no specialist to refer to: it was professionally frustrating and the negative impact on stroke survivors was clear.”
She was funded by our charity earlier in her research career to study for her PhD at Glasgow Caledonian University, investigating visual scanning training as a treatment for stroke survivors with vision problems. She was awarded her PhD in 2016. She wants to improve her research expertise and experience through her Lectureship, and hopes to lead her own research group in future.