When you start to notice that the person with dementia is having problems with their vision, it is important to first rule out other conditions. As mentioned in the previous blog, Causes of sight loss in Dementia, there are various eye conditions and health problems that can impact vision. Since most of them are treatable, the first step is to book an appointment for an eye test with an opthamologist as well as time with your physician.
Generally, it is a good practice to have yearly eye appointments and regular health checkups even if they don’t experience any problems with their vision.
An eye test will check eye health, helping to identify any eye conditions. If the person with dementia can’t get to the optometrist, there may be a local optometrist that can provide an eye examination at your home. The NHS provides free eye tests, even at home, for those over the age of 60. It is possible to qualify for financial support with the cost of glasses. For more information you call the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) helpline on 0303 123 9999.
Our ability to understand our environment is driven significantly by our sight. Therefore, identifying eye conditions and intervening early enough can help prevent sight loss and save both of you the challenges that come with it. You can help optometrists with early diagnosis of these conditions, by letting them know that the person has dementia, their list of medication, if they wear glasses, or have any family history of eye problems.
If the person with dementia needs or already uses glasses, it is worth having a conversation with the optometrist about it. Have them suggest an appropriate pair of glasses and check in with the person with dementia if it fits well and is comfortable. Wearing glasses that are wrong for them can cause confusion and they could trip or fall. Understanding the cleaning regime for the glasses is also important. If the person needs more than one pair of glasses for different purposes, then getting different coloured frames can help i.e. red frame glasses for reading and the green frame for walking in the park.
A normal health checkup with your doctor can help understand if there is anything else going on that’s impacting their vision, such as medication side effects, nutritional deficits or the onset of other comorbidities.
If the person you are caring for has some level of permanent sight loss, the following two services can provide support.
Your ophthalmologist or doctor can refer to these services. Specialist optometrists assess vision and provide supporting advice and techniques. This could range from providing a magnifier to advice on lighting and reading techniques. These services are typically located in hospitals but if needed, they can also be provided at home.
Local service providers or voluntary organisations can refer you to these services to help with poor sight. Visual rehabilitation workers or occupational therapists provide assistance with adaptive equipment like using a symbol or mobility cane, environmental modifications to staying safe and supporting with being confident when going out.
Non-verbal communication, which includes your facial expressions and body language, can play a significant role when speaking to someone. However, as the person you are caring for struggles to see, they are likely to miss the non-verbal cues. You’ll also need to slightly change how and what you say. To improve communication, you can:
Making things in the environment bigger, brighter and bolder can help with sight loss:
Try to avoid things like highly patterned wallpaper, carpets and furnishings, as well as reflective surfaces to minimise confusion.
There are products, beyond glasses, that can support people with dementia and sight loss with daily tasks: