National optical retailer Vision Express is launching a new campaign offering free eye tests, prompted by figures revealing more than 12% of residents over 50 in Brighton and Hove are at risk of macular disease.

The Vision Van – a high-tech mobile testing unit – will roll into Brighton’s Jubilee Square on Tuesday 28 June 2016 to raise awareness of the disease for Macular Week (27 June – 3 July 2016).

Brighton is on the Vision Van route in response to statistics showing 9,000 people – equivalent to more than 12% of the local over 50 population – have been identified as having risk factors associated with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD is a painless eye condition that affects central vision and has no cure. It is the most common cause of sight loss in the developed world. Around 600,000 people in the UK have vision loss as a result of AMD and in Brighton, almost 5,000 over 50s have already been diagnosed.

Nearly 200 new cases are detected every day, with the number of people affected forecast to increase due to more eye disease in an ageing population which requires long term care.

UV damage is one of the risk factors for macular disease and simple steps such as wearing sun protection can help to avoid harm.

84-year-old Brighton resident, Lisken Jellings knows this first-hand. She started experiencing macular symptoms in 2003. Lisken explains:

“I was on holiday and one morning I drew the curtains and everything I could see was covered in spots. Everything looked strange. The spots disappeared after a while so I wasn’t too worried.”

After visiting Vision Express Brighton for a regular eye test soon afterwards, Lisken mentioned the spots disrupting her sight. The team of expert optometrists recognised her symptoms as AMD and referred her to Royal Sussex Hospital to be assessed by a specialist. After being diagnosed with dry AMD, Lisken was prescribed a daily vitamin to preserve her eye health however, with no cure, the condition has now reached advanced stages.

She said:

“There’s nothing to be done, I just had to accept it. I have been told that I won’t lose my sight completely, I will have my peripheral vision.”

Partially-sighted, Lisken struggles with everyday activities as a result: “I have a white cane as I have difficulty crossing the road and it can be dangerous. I can’t see grey cars, they are just a blur and reading bus signs is impossible.

“The biggest drawback is being unable to read and I was a great reader. I can’t even read cooking instructions so if I want to cook a new dish I have to ask my husband.

“During the 1960s my husband and I lived in Nigeria for six years and no one wore sunglasses to protect their eyes back then, I certainly didn’t and I was unaware that it could be damaging to my sight. If I could go back and choose to wear sunglasses to protect my eye health I would.”

Since being diagnosed with AMD, Lisken has experienced further difficulties with her vision, including cataracts in both eyes. She is monitored for glaucoma too, due to family history of the condition. Thankfully Lisken remains all clear and is tested through bi-annual eye checks at Vision Express.

Simon Pike, Vision Express Brighton store manager said:

“Lisken’s story shows how important it is to see an optician regularly. Whatever condition may be detected, the earlier it is identified, the sooner it can be managed and the better potential outcome.

“We want people to take positive steps to safeguard their sight for a lifetime. Research shows that 37% put off having an eye test due to cost concern, so by offering this essential health check for free, Vision Express is setting aside the affordability issue to help those that need it most in Brighton.”

The Vision Van will visit Brighton on Tuesday 28 June and will be open for testing from 10am to 5pm.

Representatives from Vision Express and the Macular Society will be on hand to advise on how to spot the signs and symptoms of macular conditions. Those unable to visit can still benefit from a free eye test by downloading an online voucher from the Vision Express website: www.visionexpress.com/macular-week-2016/     

The Vision Van will also offer the chance to snap up a pair of yellow heart-shaped ‘Eye Love’ sunglasses in exchange for a suggested donation of £5 to the Macular Society.