Community Care Opticians provide eye tests at home for those who are no longer able to visit their High Street optician. This can include people with dementia. For most people the symptoms of dementia are forgetfulness and memory problems, but there are other less known symptoms such as problems with vision, behaviour, speech and personality changes. In some forms of dementia these can be the main symptoms and memory can be largely unaffected.
PCA (posterior cortical atrophy) is a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease and it affects the occipital lobe of the brain which is responsible for processing visual information. It causes the gradual and progressive degeneration of the outer layer of the brain (the cortex) in the part of the brain located in the back of the head. Most cases of Alzheimer’s disease occur in people aged 65 or older, whereas the onset of PCA usually occurs between 50 and 65. Studies have found that 5% of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s have PCA but, as it often goes unrecognised, it might be much higher in reality.
The symptoms of PCA vary from person to person and can alter as the condition progresses but can include:
- Difficulty reading a line of text
- Distinguishing between moving and stationary objects
- Difficulty judging distances
- Difficulty using tools or common household objects
- Difficulty with mathematical calculations and spelling
Often those with PCA don’t have memory problems in the early stages but this can change as the disease progresses.
Sight and hearing loss are more common as you get older whether you have dementia or not. For those with dementia it can be extra difficult as they might become confused as to where they are or struggle to communicate. It can often be difficult to work out what problems are caused by dementia and what is down to sight and hearing problems. Diagnosing someone with dementia can be difficult if they have additional sight and hearing issues and also the reverse.
Sight loss in people with dementia can be down to eye conditions such as cataracts or macular degeneration or other health conditions such as stroke or normal ageing of the eye. They are just as likely to suffer eye problems as those ageing without dementia.
Struggling with any of the following can indicate a problem with eyesight:
- Recognising people
- Avoiding obstacles
- Finding food on their plate
- Coping with either bright light, low light or both
These are all issues that could be caused by dementia but it is important to have a sight test to rule out any other difficulties which could increase confusion. People with both dementia and sight loss are more likely to have greater problems with mobility, an increased risk of falls and more disorientation.
It is essential for a person with dementia to have regular eye tests and make sure glasses are correct and clean. You can improve communication by making sure the person is looking at you before you speak to them and always let them know what’s happening. Keep their living area clutter free and familiar so they can easily find their way around. Improving lighting and use contrasting colours where possible will also help. Get help from professionals such as an occupational therapist or visual rehab worker.
Hallucinations can be common in people with dementia and it is important they are helped to feel safe. Give them reassurance and try and understand the problems they face.
People with dementia can have a sight test in their own home which can be adapted to suit their needs. We have all the equipment and experience to visit a person at home and carry out a comprehensive sight test. This means the eye test is done in a safe and familiar environment with little interference in their daily life. We can allow more time for the test if required and a friend, relative or carer can be there throughout the test. If you would like more information on eye tests at home please contact us on 0203 418 8488 or visit our website www.communitycareopticians.co.uk
Some useful organisations:
Dementia & Sight Loss Interest Group