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Medical and physical issues


When my mother started knocking things over and bumping into furniture, I thought that she must be unsteady on her feet. I started worrying about how I would manage if she got worse. I noticed one day that she was uneasy about going upstairs. My brother thought that she might have a problem with her eyesight and took her to get her eyes tested. He was right. Now she has glasses and is much better. She is still uneasy about going upstairs, but I help her and we are going to install a rail on the wall opposite the banister.

The person with dementia might be suffering from far-sightedness, short-sightedness, cataracts or double vision. You may have noticed that they keep bumping into things or have difficulty judging the height of chairs or steps. This could be because they cannot distinguish the edges of furniture, see objects blocking the way or judge depth. They might also find it difficult to distinguish one object from another when the colour is too similar. People with dementia sometimes have visual problems even when their eyesight is still intact. For example, they may find it difficult to direct and change the direction of their gaze. To complicate matters, many people with dementia suffer from “agnosia”. This means that their eyes see correctly, but their brain does not correctly interpret the information received. (Please see chapter on failure to recognise people and objects.) Problems with vision may create additional difficulties for people with dementia, who might not understand what is happening and become confused or afraid. However, an awareness of the problem, appropriate visual aids and a few precautions should help reduce the risk of accidents and allow the person with dementia to retain some degree of independence.

How to cope with problems with eyesight

It is best to try to arrange for the person with dementia to have their eyesight checked by an ophthalmologist as soon as possible and then at regular intervals. They will then be able to explain any problems and perhaps obtain new glasses or lenses if necessary. In the early stages of the disease, they may be more aware of a problem if there is one and better able to explain what it is. As the disease progresses, it may be necessary for you or other people to notice that there is a problem.

If the person does have faulty eyesight, you may be able to simplify life for them. You could, for example, help them to move around the house and to go up and down stairs. They might appreciate being read to or told who people are, etc. One important way to help is simply to make sure that they use their glasses. You could put them on a chain to avoid them getting lost and even have a spare pair made.

How to prevent problems due to faulty eyesight

Making a few changes to your home may reduce the risk of accidents. The kind of changes you could make depends on the layout of your home.

You might find the following suggestions helpful :

  • As the person with dementia risks falling and bumping into furniture, any unnecessary objects cluttering the floor are particularly dangerous, as is furniture with sharp edges. It might not be possible to replace existing furniture, but perhaps you could slightly change the layout of the room to minimise the risk.
  • By increasing the lighting around the home, the person will have more chance of seeing objects and not bumping into them.
  • Clear colour contrasts might help the person to distinguish one object from another. For example, you could lay a red towel over the edge of a white bath or install grip rails in a contrasting colour along a wall.



Last Updated: Tuesday 11 August 2009