Researcher into visual impairment in stroke survivors to look to the US

17 May 2017

GCU Research Fellow and Optometrist Dr Christine Hazelton will travel to specialist centres in the United States to work with researchers and specialists to help improve care for stroke survivors in Scotland.

Dr Hazelton secured funding from the University’s Magnus Magnusson Awards, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary. She is one of seven recipients to be presented with an award this year in the name of the University’s late Chancellor, Magnus Magnusson KBE.

It is estimated that one fifth of stroke survivors will have a lasting visual impairment, which equates to around 25,000 people in Scotland and a further 200,000 in the UK. Visual impairment can remain undetected and untreated, leaving stroke survivors without the knowledge, training or tools to cope with these problems.

Dr Hazelton will work with Optometrists in the State University of New York of Optometry (SUNY), before traveling to the University of Alabama to experience occupational therapy treatments available to stroke patients.

In Alabama, she will collaborate with leading Occupational Therapist Dr Mary Warren, who has developed a new approach which incorporates assessment of vision as a starting point to each stroke survivor’s therapy.  This allows treatment to be tailored to the specific underlying visual problems to allow the best rehabilitation result to be achieved.

It is hoped that the visit will lead to closer collaboration with researchers within her field to improve patient care. 

"When working as an optometrist, I developed an interest in patients who had visual impairment after stroke as I could see the detrimental effect this had on their lives and how difficult it was to cope with," said Dr Hazelton. 

Many of her patients, she explains, could no longer drive and struggled to return to work or see family and friends frequently. Others found unfamiliar places and situations very frightening and did not leave the house, which lead to them becoming isolated and depressed. Many had stopped reading because it was so difficult and simple household tasks were much harder.  

In practise, Dr Hazelton found there were few treatments that could be offered and very few specialists to refer patients to.  This was in contrast to the many services available for those with visual problems due to an eye problem, as opposed to a brain problem. Stroke survivors with visual impairment were falling  into a huge gap in care between stroke teams and visual care professionals, Dr Hazelton argues. 

This experience sparked her move into research, taking up a research post in GCU. 

She added: “We have made a lot of progress in Scotland, both in the treatment of stroke survivors with visual impairment, and providing the research evidence needed. However, we could be doing a lot more. Collaborating with other researchers across the globe will hopefully strengthen our understanding, diagnosis and treatment, to enable stroke survivors to achieve the best possible outcomes.”

Dr Hazelton plans to build on her work with GCU’s Vision Science Department and Visibility, the local low-vision charity, to continue to work towards tackling the gap in care provision for those with visual impairment.

Dr Hazelton is a Research Fellow at the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Research Unit at GCU.