Dementia and Sight Loss Make for a Debilitating Combination: Not Enough Attention Has Been Afforded to Supporting People with Dementia and Vision Problems

By Turpin, Pam | New Statesman (1996), June 7, 2013 | Go to article overview

Dementia and Sight Loss Make for a Debilitating Combination: Not Enough Attention Has Been Afforded to Supporting People with Dementia and Vision Problems


Turpin, Pam, New Statesman (1996)


Betty, 91, has dementia. Prone to falling, she became afraid to go outside. She would also frequently drop her tablets, which left her feeling highly frustrated. Betty had poor eye sight but wore an old pair of bi-fold spectacles, leaving the staff at the residential home where she lived to comment that they didn't fully understand why she was having visual difficulties.

It took an eye examination to highlight that Betty's sight problems were the result of wearing the wrong prescription glasses. This was quickly recitified, and Betty was given a new pair, as well as a bespoke sight loss passport which highlighted her vision problems to staff. Meanwhile, staff also received training in dementia and sight loss. Overall, Betty was happier and more content and staff felt more confident in supporting her.

Sight loss in people with dementia is not uncommon. Indeed, there are at least 1000,000 people in the UK currently living with both conditions. Although severe memory loss is the main presentations, vision can also be affected. This can stem from visual difficulties due to dementia pathology, age-related sight problems or a mixture of both.

Dementia affects the way people perceive and process visual information in different ways. For example, Alzheimer's Disease, the most common form of dementia, impacts on contrast sensitivity, visual attention, object and facial recognition, colour and depth perception, glare, motion perception and visual misinterpretation. Posterior Cortical Atrophy the "visual variant" of Alzheimer's Disease accounts for up to is per cent of all cases. In the early stages of the condition, individuals seek help because of difficulties in reading, driving, locating or recognising objects or navigating their environment. Symptoms can be extremely disabling.

Vision problems can also affect people with vascular dementia (particularly if related to stroke), dementia related to Parkinson's Disease, and Lewy body dementia. For example, people may experience "visual mistakes" such as misperceptions, misidentifications, illusions and hallucinations. …

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