This optometrist wants seniors to fight poor vision
Published on 7 February 2024
According to Ms Fifiana Tan, a Senior Optometrist at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (NTFGH), your quality of life shouldn’t be compromised by vision loss.
My role involves a degree of precision. I specialise in eye care and assess eye conditions. A typical day sees me running eye tests to check patients' prescription for best corrected vision, performing ultrasound scans of the eye and taking accurate measurements of the eyeballs for various procedures. I also perform eye health assessments to identify conditions such as macular degeneration, an age-related change affecting the central part of the retina known as the macula, and glaucoma, a disease that can lead to vision loss and blindness due to damage to the optic nerve.
You won’t catch me slacking off! Challenging cases include individuals with disabilities who have dense cataracts and need extra tests. As ultrasound biometry — the process of measuring the length of the eye for lens calculation for cataract surgery — involves placing a probe/shell on the eyeball, it can be a challenge to perform the tests for such patients. It can also be tough for patients to cooperate. In such cases, I communicate the purpose and importance of the test clearly with patients and caregivers to seek their understanding and patience as we try our best to obtain the most accurate measurements possible. Caregivers can, in turn, help to communicate with patients or hold their hand for support.
Sometimes, it is also hard to convince patients that the right pair of glasses and regular vision breaks are all they need to relieve their eye strain and vision symptoms. In such cases, I always emphasise that focusing on long-term relief is more important than the everyday inconvenience of wearing glasses.
Ms Fifiana Tan performing a vision function examination,providing crucial information for doctors to diagnose and treat eye conditions.
Don’t mistake me for an eye doctor. Sometimes, people think my job is the same as that of an ophthalmologist. As an optometrist, I oversee vision correction while eye doctors specialise in the treatment of eye diseases. I usually tell people that my job is to find solutions for blurred vision. Others confuse us with opticians, thinking that we only deal with glasses, but only optometrists run eye health assessments.
A comforting sight for me would be to see patients with presbyopia embracing the use of glasses to alleviate their symptoms and offer their eyes a respite. I have many patients who have never worn glasses in their lives. When they finally develop presbyopia — a condition that makes it hard for middle-aged and older adults to see things up close — some refuse to wear glasses as they find it a hassle. In such cases, they end up squinting and straining their eyes. I consistently remind them of the importance of having good vision while they perform their jobs.
It would also be great if kids were not constantly looking at digital screens. Being in this line of work, I know the potential complications of myopia (nearsightedness) and it’s not a condition we should accept. In fact, starting good eye care habits early can delay its onset. As a mother, I believe it’s important to control myopia because the earlier the child develops it, the more likely he will develop high myopia as he grows. Having high myopia could lead to increased risk of vision threatening eye diseases later in life.
I count improving someone’s quality of life as a win. This may involve helping them understand how to choose the right pair of glasses. Many people do not realise that you need more than one pair of glasses for different functions. If you spend most of your time working on your computer, it's a good idea to have a different pair of glasses just for that because you usually look at the screen from a different distance than you do for other things. I also ask patients about their lifestyles and the difficulties they face with their vision, whether it blurs when looking at things from afar or near, or what tasks they have difficulty performing.
I love my job because there is something to learn from patients everyday. Even if the patient returns for the same assessment on a different day, they may come in with a different disease profile or eye status. So, we plan and design our approach for every single patient each time they see us, and modify the assessment technique or language that we use during examination to obtain optimal results. While it is challenging, there is always something new to learn from patients every day.
I can’t stress enough the importance of regular eye screening. We have a generation of myopic children who start wearing glasses from young. With myopia, there is a higher risk of developing glaucoma and cataract. In fact, I see a growing number of younger patients in their 40s with these two eye diseases. Hence, I educate the public on the importance of regular eye screening through yearly talks. Diseases like glaucoma must be diagnosed and treated early to reduce vision loss.
You should not just accept losing your vision as you age. As long as you take good care of your eyes and general health, go for regular eye screenings and get treated early, you can still maintain good vision. I tell my patients that by doing so, they also ensure they don’t become sources of added responsibility for their families. The aim is to prevent people’s quality of life from being compromised by vision loss.
The sights I cannot unsee
My husband and I went to Amritsar, India, for the first time in 2017 as he’s a huge Bollywood fan and India has always been one of our go-to destinations. From Amritsar, we travelled to the Wagah border near Pakistan. We were in a 9-seater taxi which kept taking in more passengers — there were more than 9 people — and we were squeezed at the back with five guys. Initially, we didn’t speak to one another but it was a long journey and we got talking after one guy started offering his snacks. Then, we witnessed the changing of the guard at the Pakistan-India border. We were amazed by how passionate everyone was at the stadium, with audiences chanting, running alongside the parade, dancing to the Bollywood music, and of course — the impressive high kicks by the officers! It was a cultural exchange between both sides, which we would not have known if the Kashmiri guys had not explained it to us, as well as between us and our fellow passengers.
In consultation with Ms Fifiana Tan, Senior Optometrist,NTFGH.
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