Vision and Alzheimer’s: Cognitive Function Isn’t the Only Decline

More than 60% of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease will have a decline in some type of visual capacity. The most common vision difficulties include:

  • Motion blindness,
  • Depth perception,
  • Color perception, and
  • Contrast sensitivity.1

Alzheimer’s patients impacted by motion blindness have difficulty seeing movement. Normal vision involves seeing life in motion, or as a movie.  If you have motion blindness, life appears as a series of still frames that are not continually connected.1 If you think about seeing your world in snapshots, connecting information may be lost. Thus, seeing the world as still frames may cause the affected person to become lost, even in familiar surroundings.

The loss of depth perception will cause three-dimensional objects to appear flat.  This can impact issues with balance and risk of falls, as shadows on the floor may look like holes.1 The dark strip around the edge of a floor rug or linoleum may seem like endless pits that my actually lead to anxiety about falling.

Color perception can also be impacted in Alzheimer’s patients. In fact, color perception will be reduced for many people with age, but Alzheimer’s patients often have a heightened color perception reduction, especially in the blue-violet range. Hence, caregivers may want to choose red items to make them stand our visually for individuals impacted by color perception. The retina in the human eye has more receptors for seeing red, which makes the color red more visible for many people.1

Also, the ability to see a contrast between colors is reduced in Alzheimer’s patients.  An example of how this can impact and activity of daily living for an Alzheimer’s patient is if the toilet, walls, and floor in a bathroom are all the same color, a person with diminished contrast sensitivity may have difficulty finding the toilet.1 Another example is having a clear glass filled with white milk sitting on a white table.  A person with contrast sensitivity issues may have difficulty locating the glass of milk on the table.  If you filled the same glass with chocolate milk or put the white milk into a brightly colored glass they would have an easier time of finding it. Therefore, it will be important to increase the contrast of the colors in a room to help a person locate items more easily.

As you interact with a person experiencing Alzheimer’s disease, try to keep these common visual difficulties in mind. Sometimes behavior difficulties and memory symptoms are exacerbated due to declining vision.  Taking small, simple steps can be very impactful for the person you are for with Alzheimer’s.

 

  1. Alzheimer’s Association. Vision Problems Associated with Alzheimer ’s disease. www.alz.org/centralohio/doc . Accessed on May 1, 2017.

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