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Dementia and vision: how to cope with eye problems

Are you worried that the person you’re caring for is having trouble with their eyes? Find out how to help them cope with vision difficulties

Eyesight problems can be dangerous if you have dementia, but deteriorating eye sight is also fairly inevitable as you age. So how can you reduce the risk of your loved one having a fall or accident, without wrapping them in cotton wool?

5 reasons for sight problems

1. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s dementia, dementia with Lewy Bodies and vascular dementia have been shown to cause difficulties with vision. This includes visual ‘mistakes’ such as seeing a shadow on a carpet and mistaking it for a hole, visual’ misperceptions’, such as seeing a shiny surface and thinking it’s wet, and sometimes even hallucinations.

2. Normal ageing can also lead to deteriorating eye sight, including problems with vision and perception, blurring and seeing shadows floating in the visual field (known as ‘floaters’).

3. Other eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration are also more likely as you age.

4. A stroke, diabetes and certain medications can damage eyesight.

5. A rarer form of dementia called posterior cortical atrophy (PCA) is known to cause problems with vision.

Dementia can also make it more difficult to see colour contrasts such as black and white or to recognise familiar objects or faces. Other issues such as double vision, or problems with orientation can lead people living with dementia to bump into furniture and doors and feel disorientated.

But there are ways to help reduce the risks and improve their enjoyment of life.

Ways you can help

Make your home dementia-friendly

Reduce the risk of trips and falls by making changes to things like colour contrasts in furniture, moving items so they don’t pose a trip hazard, or using grips to stop carpets slipping.

Don’t miss regular eye tests

They’re free if you’re over 60. If there’s a family history of glaucoma they’re also free to people over 40. When you book you’re appointment just say how old you are or mention your family history of glaucoma and you’re eye test should be free. If the person with dementia struggles to get out to the opticians, it’s worth checking if they can do a home visit, as there are some that can offer this service.

Clean their specs

Make sure their glasses are smudge-free and the prescription is up to date.

Change their glasses

Do they wear varifocal or bifocal glasses? It might be time to swap them for distance glasses and reading glasses. Multifocals can become harder to use as dementia progresses.

Limit alcohol

Not only can it lead to accidents and injuries, but it also put you at increased risk of macular degeneration.

Improve lighting around the house

Place a study lamp or spotlight next to their favourite armchair so that hobbies such as knitting or reading are still possible. Increase overhead lighting levels by switching to more powerful bulbs or by opening curtains.

Encourage healthy eating

A wide variety of fruit and vegetables in your daily diet can help to keep the retina healthy, as well as all the other benefits to overall health and wellbeing.

Get moving

Whilst your instinct might be to keep your loved one at home where ‘they’re safe’ research shows that some exercise can reduce the risk of sight loss and getting outside is usually beneficial to mental health too.

Tip: Always have spare glasses on standby. Keep them in a safe place where only you can find them!