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Vision and Dementia

Thursday March 17, 2016

Painting - Vision and Dementia

Seeing and understanding our world is a multi-step process – our eyes take in an image, that image is then sent to our brains (along with information from the other senses), and then the brain processes the image using the information gathered and past experience to make sense of what is being seen. When someone has dementia, there is a breakdown in this process.

What can you do as a caregiver or friend of one with dementia?

First and foremost, it is imperative that those with dementia have regular vision screenings so that any issues with vision can be addressed and corrected as soon as possible. An impaired brain needs to receive the best information it can, and regular vision screenings will help ensure this occurs. If the person has glasses, be sure they are the correct prescription and lenses are clean. If glasses are constantly being misplaced, put them on a chain or keep an extra pair at the ready.

Here are additional things you can do to help your loved one:

Create contrast.

Those with dementia have difficulty distinguishing objects of similar color. For example, a pale yellow plate on a white tablecloth may blend in. A brown handrail mounted on a brown wall or a white button on a light colored shirt can’t be seen. A dark mug with black coffee may look like an empty mug.

It is best to use contrasting colors to highlight things you want your loved one to see. Put the black coffee in a light colored cup. If the wall is light brown, paint the handrail black. Instead of a light colored shirt with light buttons, choose a blue shirt with white buttons. Serve dinner on a white plate on a red tablecloth.

Put on your binoculars.

An average young person can put his hands straight out to each side and see his fingertips using peripheral vision. As we age, peripheral vision naturally narrows, but with dementia, a person’s field of vision narrows drastically. Dementia care expert Teepa Snow uses the analogy of binoculars to explain this change in vision. Place your hands over your eyes like binoculars. You can’t see much – right?

A limited field of vision can easily cause falls and other accidents. Keep this in mind when guiding your loved one through a room or assessing potential fall hazards. Also, when eating, your loved one may not be able to see part of the plate, so you may need to turn the plate so that the other food can be seen.

Keep in mind difficulties with depth perception.

Changes in flooring can be confusing. A dark rug may look like a black hole, so the person will step around it or won’t walk over it for fear of falling into a bottomless pit. Consider moving the dark rug or switching it for a color similar to the flooring. When the flooring switches from carpet to tile, your loved one may think it is a step up/down.

When walking with your loved one, verbally reassure him or her that the flooring is the same level. Your loved one may think the chair is close enough to sit, while really he or she is still far from the chair. Help guide your loved one to the seat.

Fill rooms with bright, direct light.

As we age, we require brighter light to see. This is even truer for those with dementia. The brain can play tricks in poor lighting. Imagine sitting in your living room with the blinds open and curtains pulled back in the late afternoon. The sun begins to set and shadows start appearing. Those with dementia may think the coatrack in the corner is a person or the random misplaced shoe is cat on the living room floor. Close the blinds, pull the curtains, and ensure sufficient indoor lighting is available before the sun sets to help avoid extra confusion.

Eliminate unnecessary visual noise.

An environment that is cluttered or filled with multiple, strong patterns can be confusing for the already confused brain. A cleaner and more simplified environment is ideal. Embrace spring cleaning. Enlist of the help of family, friends, or neighbors and declutter as much as possible.

If you have specific questions or concerns, our Social Worker, Sheri Wammack, is available to talk with you and answer questions (901.854.1200 or sheri@pagerobbins.org).