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Left to right: Monica Hanza, Ranjoo Prasad, Sheri Drossner, Nekisha Ammons
By Rebecca Salowe

Scheie Vision Summer 2017

The group will supplement the services offered by the Penn Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation at the Ralston House. This center, led by Ranjoo Prasad, OD, provides care and support to patients with no remaining surgical or medical options to improve their declining vision.

“We assess their functional difficulties and determine how we can help them optimize their remaining vision by using optical devices such as magnifiers or telescopes,” explained Dr. Prasad. “We also explore non-optical methods, such as auditory or adaptive strategies, and refer patients to other services for the visually impaired, such as low vision and occupational therapists.

Though these tools are helpful, many patients with low vision continue to struggle with depression and anxiety. One study found that up to 25% of patients at a vision loss clinic have mild to moderate depression.

“These patients are grieving,” said Dr. Prasad. “They are experiencing a major loss and want to know that they are not alone.” Sheri Drossner, a Clinical Research Coordinator at the Scheie Eye Institute with a Master’s in Social Work, added: “Low vision affects so many aspects of their lives. And many of those patients struggle in dealing with their vision loss — emotionally, physically, and economically.

Though the experiences of each patient vary on an individual basis, almost all share a common need for emotional support. This need was the impetus behind the creation of the low vision support group.

“A support group enables patients to connect and learn from one another, realize they are not alone, and find information about services and/or devices that are helpful,” said Sheri.

The Scheie Vision Loss Support Group welcomes patients with all eye conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, and glaucoma. The group, which will meet monthly, is led by Monica Hanza, a social work student from the School of Social Policy and Practice at UPenn.

“Each meeting is designed to allow time for both planned topics and unplanned topics,” Monica explained. “Some topics will be suggested by participants who would like immediate feedback and ideas from the group, while others will be planned in advance, so we can bring in experts to share their knowledge on a certain topic.

The first meeting, which took place in January 2017, was attended by eight patients. Topics included adaptive products and what patients liked or didn’t like about them; resources to obtain news, magazines, and books in audio; the use of canes; and how challenging it can be to ask for help. “I thought the first meeting was very successful as the participants were very open about their challenges and successes and were very supportive of each other,” said Monica. “There was vulnerability, laughter, and a sense of connection.” The following meetings have been similarly productive.

Since the support group is so new, a follow-up questionnaire is being conducted to gather feedback. Nekisha Ammons, who recently completed her Bachelors of Social Work, is leading this effort.

“The goal of the questionnaire is to have the participants open up more outside of the group about their experiences,” she said. “Some participants may feel self-conscious in speaking during group sessions, so this gives them the opportunity to speak freely.

Looking forward, the group will continue to meet on a monthly basis. If its size becomes too large, it will likely split into two or more groups, perhaps separated by disease type. Dr. Prasad also plans to incorporate caregivers into future meetings.

Meetings will be held on the last Tuesday of each month at the Ralston House from 3-4PM.  Interested patients can contact Sheri at 215-662-8177 for more information.

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