Pioneering study examines sight loss and physical activity

Posted on 25th June 2014

New research released today has found that a number of factors are preventing older people with sight loss from participating in physical activity.

The study is the first to probe physical activity in this growing age group and has been conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School and Loughborough University.

Through interviews with forty-eight people aged over 60 suffering from sight loss, the team documented people’s experiences of trying to stay active. Whilst all participants were aware of the important benefits, they cited a number of barriers that excluded them from staying mobile. These included transport difficulties, cost, a lack of support, and inaccessible leisure facilities.

The study found that many older people with sight loss are also coping with multiple health problems, but those taking part in physical activity were keen to stress its important physical, mental and emotional rewards, as well as the opportunities for social interaction it can offer.

One of the European Centre’s specialists in active ageing, Dr Cassandra Phoenix, said “As well as missing out on the crucial health benefits, people we spoke to report a deep sense of loss at having to reduce their physical activity because of sight loss. Ultimately they blame a lack of accessible facilities for stopping them from pursuing what they want – fitness, fun, social interaction and independence.”

The study has been funded by sight loss charity, Thomas Pocklington Trust, who called on leisure providers, local authorities and county sports partnerships to provide activities that are both sustainable and accessible for older people with sight loss.

The Government currently recommends that adults should take part in 30 minutes of physical activity 5 times a week – a target that can be hard for older adults with sight loss to meet. This research represents the first step in trying to understand the specific problems this group can face and what can be done to overcome them.

Dr Catherine Dennison, Head of Health and Wellbeing Research at Thomas Pocklington Trust, said “This is the first time systematic research has asked older people with sight loss about their experience of trying to stay active. Many of the participants enjoyed walking, cycling, bowls or dance, for example; but all of them had suffered problems with accessibility. They want to stay fit, mobile and independent but the research shows that they are unfairly disadvantaged. A determined effort is needed by all those providing physical activities to make them accessible to all.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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