Dumfries veteran urges fellow residents to open up about life-changing impact of sight loss

Press Release | 25/11/2019

A veteran with an age-related eye condition is urging fellow Dumfries and Galloway residents to talk more openly about the life-changing impact of sight loss.


Jim Behan, 83, has macular degeneration – an eye condition that can blur or even eradicate central vision.  

Jim Behan with his Travelux magnifier


The army veteran’s sight has rapidly deteriorated since Easter, leaving him struggling to read and no longer able to drive – greatly denting his independence.


Jim, who has lived in Dumfries all his life, says the condition has also made it increasingly difficult to recognise faces, which can lead him to feel “embarrassed”.


Now receiving support from Scottish War Blinded to adapt to life with sight loss, Jim is hoping to help raise awareness of how a visual impairment can change life – and of the support available to fellow veterans with sight loss in the area. 


“When I started having problems with my sight I initially felt it was just my specs,” explained Jim, who lives alone. “I had to give up driving. After driving for 50 years, I felt like my legs had been cut off. I didn’t realise just how dependent on a car I was.


“It’s things like going to the shops – it’s a process. Can I get the bus there? How far can I walk? Going into town is a bit of a blur – I find that quite difficult and I’m not used to that yet. I very much appreciate the support from my friends who give me lifts.


“I can see the outline of people but I can’t see the details of their face. It’s embarrassing because I don’t recognise people and they might think I’m in a mood. So I’ve decided recently to just say that I’m having some problems with my vision and that I’m not slighting people.” 


Jim’s poor sight has also affected his ability to read, which has always been one of his favourite pastimes.


He said. “Reading was always my pleasure, I’ve always had piles of books. But it’s one of the biggest challenges now. My eyesight stopped me from reading very quickly. It felt terrible. I couldn’t quite believe it. I kept thinking I would wake up one morning and my sight would be back to normal.” 


After serving with the army for National Service from 1959 to 1961 and then 23 years with the Territorial Army, Jim’s military background and sight loss made him eligible for free support from Scottish War Blinded. Like Jim, many veterans supported by the charity have macular degeneration.


Since he became a member in May, Jim has been assessed for a Travelux electronic magnifier by Scottish War Blinded Rehabilitation Officer Sharon McAllister, which is helping him to read again.


Outreach Worker for Dumfries and Galloway, Mick Seed, has also set him up with an audio books subscription to keep him connected with his love of books.


Jim said: “I couldn’t believe the help that was available. I’ve got talking books now and a magnifier for reading the newspaper, that’s been very useful. So I still have books in my life. I’ve been given anti-glare glasses as well and a one-cup kettle.”


The veteran has also been attending Scottish War Blinded’s monthly Dumfries lunch club, run by Mick, and says it helps to meet others who are living with sight loss too.


“It’s nice to know that other people are there and they are managing – I find that helpful,” Jim said.


“You see people coping with their sight loss. They’re not feeling sorry for themselves and just getting on with it. I think the fear is I will go blind, but I’m trying not to think like that. I try not to let it get me down.”


And Jim is encouraging any veterans with sight loss in Dumfries and Galloway to reach out to Scottish War Blinded. 


“I wouldn’t have known about any of these things available until I joined Scottish War Blinded,” he added.


“I’ve been so impressed. It’s knowing that if I’m having difficulties sight wise I can contact them – there’s a resource and support there for me, I’m not left wondering what to do next, particularly with living on my own.”


Rebecca Barr, Director of Scottish War Blinded, said: “Jim is not alone in his experiences of the impact of sight loss. With the right support, there are many ways to adapt and carry on living life as independently as possible.


“We would love to welcome more veterans in Dumfries and Galloway into our Scottish War Blinded community. We offer the camaraderie many of our veterans remember fondly from their time in the forces with the knowledge and skills to help each person cope with the impact of their sight loss.


“If you are a veteran with sight loss, or you have a friend or relative you think could be eligible for our support, please give us a call. You are not alone.”