The Eyes Have It

In our day-to-day world, we tend to assume what we see around us is what others see. However, that is not necessarily the case for someone living with Alzheimer’s. In fact, people with several forms of dementia—but especially Alzheimer’s disease—experience significant changes in the way their brains take in, and interpret, visual information that is generally unconnected to overall eye health and function:

  • Depth perception diminishes. For example, black tile surrounding a light-colored carpet may be “seen” as a dangerous, bottomless pit.
  • Limited peripheral vision creates tunnel vision, making an object unrecognizable unless placed directly in front of the individual.
  • High color contrast becomes vital to distinguish one object from another, i.e., a clear glass of milk “blends” into a table covered with a white cloth.
  • Enhanced lighting grows imperative for those living with Alzheimer’s—in fact, nearly doubling the intensity required for the normal aging process.
  • “Sundowning”—the exacerbation of difficult behaviors as sunset approaches—is common. The sun’s changing angle can be confusing. Pulling shades and providing a steady stream of light for the patient is helpful.
  • Visual “noise,” such as clutter in the environment, can be unsettling. Keep surroundings simple and organized.
  • Processing of information by the left eye often decreases. For example, patients may not see food that has been placed, or remains, on the left side of the plate.

Those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia cannot leave their reality.  Caregivers must join them.  The Alzheimer’s Association recently reported that even though Alzheimer’s is the most commonly diagnosed form of dementia, and its visual changes are highly common, this remains one of the illness’s least known components.  Caregivers can help by creating simple adaptations to the physical environment to enhance their loved one’s ability to function more independently.

What a positive impact this can have on everyone’s well-being!