Sight loss is often under diagnosed in people with dementia because the signs can be difficult to separate. One condition may mask or be mistaken for the effect of the other. Often the individual may not be able to tell you about changes to their vision. Visual changes can be caused by a pre existing or new age related eye condition, or by the dementia itself. Therefore the individual may experience “hidden sight loss”.
To support with the identification of “hidden sight loss” and facilitate access to eye health care in conjunction with Alzheimer Scotland we produced a “Dementia and Sight Loss” leaflet which supports individuals and their carers to access local opticians. It offers tips for coping with dementia and sight loss ranging from getting regular eye tests to making the most of your sight by making things bigger, brighter and bolder. You can access the full resource here:
Building on this work, in partnership with Sandra Shafii, AHP Dementia Consultant we decided develop this work and relate what we know about dementia and sight loss and link it to falls. The aim was to support members of falls team. I was well aware of impact of sight loss on falls but had not considered the impact of dementia and falls.
Dementia, falls & sight loss
Someone with dementia is up to 8 times more likely to fall than someone without the disease and similarly if you are living with sight loss you are twice as likely to fall compared to someone with out sight loss. It is important to remember that sight loss for someone with dementia can arise from an age related eye condition, another health condition or dementia itself. Often people living with dementia are unaware that sight loss may be part of their dementia journey but research has found that within 6 months of developing Alzheimer’s an individual can experience:
- Reduced visual acuity
- Loss of depth perception
- Reduced colour and contrast sensitivity
This can impact on the individual in various ways for example judging the speed of cars, height of stairs and steps and difficulties with highly patterned carpets/curtains/clothing. So what can make a difference? We came up with 9 top tips.
9 top tips to reduce the risk of falls for someone living with sight loss and dementia
1. Think about creating a dementia and sight loss friendly environment using colour and contrast as well as the environmental changes associated with reducing risk of falls
2. Use clear written/ picture signage to aid orientation
3. Think about lighting – someone aged 60 needs three times more light than someone aged 20
4. Encourage people over 60 to attend for an eye examination once a year or as directed by their optometrist
5. Ensure any treatment prescribed by the optometrist is followed
6. Ensure glasses are clean, current and correct for the task
7. Provide the correct level of guidance/ support when assisting transfers/ mobility
8. Ensure hospital appointments are attended for conditions such as diabetes that have a known association with eye conditions
9. Ensure any medications for eye health are given
For further information check out the attached practice note, “Falls Dementia and Sight Loss” http://www.rnib.org.uk/sites/default/files/Practice_Note_Falls_Dementia_and_Sight_Loss_.pdf
We’re RNIB and we’re here for everyone affected by sight loss. Whether you’re losing your sight or you’re blind or partially sighted, our practical and emotional support can help you face the future with confidence.
June Neil – UK Training and Development Manager
I have a UK remit to develop and deliver sight loss and dementia training to health and social service employees, carers and other professions. My role also involves working in partnership to develop suitable resources to support adult with complex needs and sight loss for example top tip cards, dementia and sight loss leaflet the falls practise note.