A leading stroke charity has awarded Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) researcher Dr Christine Hazelton five years of funding to improve the lives of people who suffer vision problems after a stroke.

Nearly two thirds of stroke survivors experience problems with their eyesight after a stroke, but many report they have not been getting the care and support they need to manage this day-to-day or recover.

Now the Stroke Association, with matched funding from GCU, has awarded optometrist and Research Fellow Dr Hazelton a five-year Lectureship to develop her programme of research which focuses on improving care services and recovery for stroke survivors with vision problems.

The funding awarded to Dr Hazelton continues to cement Scotland’s place as an area of excellence for stroke research: 37 per cent of the Stroke Association’s current research portfolio is based at Scottish universities, including two Lectureships at GCU.

The impact of vision problems after stroke can be challenging, affecting many aspects of daily life including driving, reading and getting out and about safely. This can affect a stroke survivor’s ability to return to work, reduce their independence, and lead to a poorer recovery. These devastating effects have led to stroke survivors, their family members and healthcare professionals to name vision treatment after stroke as one of the most important research areas to focus on.

Dr Hazelton said: “As an optometrist, I quickly became aware that I felt less able to care for stroke survivors compared to people with visual impairment caused by other conditions. There were very few treatments I could offer, little information to provide and no clear specialist to refer to: it was professionally frustrating and the negative impact on stroke survivors was clear.

“I am thrilled to have been awarded a Lectureship by the Stroke Association. My research will focus on developing new treatments for people with vision problems after stroke; these treatments aim to help stroke survivors to adapt to and manage their vision problems and support them with everyday tasks such as reading. I’ll also develop training for stroke therapists and student opticians, helping them to provide better care and support stroke survivors with vision problems both in hospital and in the community.”

Professor Marian Brady, who leads the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Research Unit (NMAHP) at GCU, added: “We are delighted that Dr Hazelton’s clinical expertise as an optometrist, her high quality, ambitious research programme and her ongoing commitment to improving the lives of people with vision problems after stroke has been recognised with such an important award. Dr Hazelton’s work is a wonderful example of how a complex but vitally important research question for people after stroke, their families and healthcare professionals can be addressed.

“Our multidisciplinary stroke rehabilitation research group, co-led by Prof Frederike van Wijck and myself, and colleagues in the high-ranking Vision Sciences Department look forward to continuing to work with Dr Hazelton over the next five years.”

The Stroke Association awarded its first Lectureship in 2015, and Dr Hazelton is the 15th recipient of this prestigious award. Lectureships support researchers in the middle stages of their careers, an often tricky stage between gaining independence as a researcher and being awarded a permanent contract.

Dr Richard Francis, Head of Research Awards at the Stroke Association, said: “Having trouble with your vision can be distressing and people who have had strokes may not be immediately aware that they have this problem. There are limited treatments available for stroke survivors with vision problems and service provision varies across the country.

“The Stroke Association is guided by those who have been personally affected by stroke to ensure we support research into issues that really matter to survivors, their families and carers. By investing in research like Dr Hazleton’s, we play a vital role in helping stroke survivors to rebuild their lives.

“We funded Dr Hazelton for her PhD between 2011 and 2016, which investigated the effectiveness of a treatment for stroke survivors with vision loss, so we’re delighted to now be funding her for a Lectureship during the next stage of her career.”

Whilst establishing this programme of research based at GCU, Dr Hazelton will also spend a small amount of time continuing to work as an optometrist, which will help her to keep in touch with stroke survivors with visual problems and other eye specialists who can ultimately benefit from this research.

She said: “Testing new treatments will improve our understanding of what treatments are best to support stroke survivors with vision problems, and will allow healthcare professionals to offer better treatments in the future. I hope my research will improve daily life for stroke survivors, supporting them to rebuild their lives and achieve the best recovery from their rehabilitation.”