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Alzheimer’s and vision - what’s the connection?

Updated: Feb 15, 2022

Alzheimer's is a life-changing diagnosis. Not only does it affect your body and mind, but it can also affect your vision.

More than 747,000 Canadians are currently suffering from Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, this number is expected to grow to more than 900,000 by 2030, with 65% of people diagnosed being women over 65.

As the disease progresses, patients may begin to develop trouble with their vision. Your eyecare professional can help you or your loved one navigate vision problems associated with Alzheimer's, such as blurriness and trouble distinguishing colours.

Let’s learn more about Alzheimer’s and how to improve the quality of life for people who are suffering from related vision loss or impairment.

What is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's disease is one of the leading causes of dementia. What begins as being forgetful such as misplacing keys or forgetting an appointment, slowly progresses into more severe memory loss and inability to perform daily tasks.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer's?

It can take many years for Alzheimer's to be diagnosed. Many patients pass off memory loss simply as a sign of getting older. Some medical experts believe that people learn to adapt to their dementia at an early age, with some people beginning to show signs in their 40s, unaware it is actually more severe than they think.

The most common symptoms of Alzheimer's include:

● Memory loss

● Inability to reason or make decisions

● Inability to communicate

● Mood changes

● Changes in vision and visual perception

Over time, these symptoms will become more severe leaving patients unable to dress, drive a car, make meals, or communicate.

Does Alzheimer’s affect your vision?

Since many people diagnosed with Alzheimer's are senior citizens, it may not be apparent that the disease is affecting their vision. Many patients may already wear reading glasses and assume that changes in their vision are due to aging.

Alzheimer's can affect the way people perceive the world around them. Patients may have difficulty distinguishing objects because their brains are no longer sending them the right messages.

Other patients may have difficulty distinguishing between colors, particularly blue-violet hues.

One of the most common vision changes is in peripheral vision which makes it difficult for patients to navigate the world around them. This can often be misdiagnosed as being clumsy or needing a change in prescription.

Your optometrist near you can do a thorough exam and may be able to determine if vision changes are a result of existing Alzheimer's or normal changes in vision.

Some patients may also have difficulty with depth perception, losing the ability to tell the difference between flat objects and 3D ones. They also may have trouble with distance, making it increasingly difficult to drive.

How to diagnose Alzheimer's related vision loss

An optometrist will do a complete examination of the eyes including reviewing your family history to determine if you have a predisposition to Alzheimer's. This might include retinal imaging to allow them to get a clearer picture of the patient’s retina, which can provide early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

How to treat Alzheimer’s related vision loss

There is no cure for Alzheimer's, however, there are things you can do to lessen the impact of vision loss.

Get an eye exam - the first step is to ensure regular visits to the eye doctor to monitor the progression of vision loss.

Adjust your diet - your eye doctor may also recommend changes in your diet including eating foods that are rich in Omega-3.

Quit smoking - other changes to health that can improve vision include quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption.

Use adaptive devices - visual aids can also help reduce the impact of vision loss such as custom screens that enhance the size of fonts.

Improve lighting - several additional adaptive devices can make living with vision loss easier such as automatic lights or audio labels that make it easier to move around the home and remain independent.

Eye exams for seniors in Ontario

Your optometrist can provide you with resources to help you find the right visual aids and health improvements to help yourself or your loved one cope with vision loss. Remember it is important to accommodate an Alzheimer’s sufferer as much as possible, to experience the highest level of comfort and care in partnership with your eye doctor.

Laurier Optical offers support and assistance for patients with Alzheimer-related vision loss. We understand how difficult it can be to watch someone you care about go through these difficult times. Our teams have some of the leading optometrists in Ontario providing exceptional eyecare in Ottawa and the surrounding area, and we can help you and your family find the right vision solutions for so you or they don’t have to suffer alone.

Remember most senior patients’ eye exams are covered by OHIP – why not contact us today for more information or to book an eye exam for peace of mind?

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