August 4, 2005
One in three nursing home residents with Alzheimer's disease who need eyeglasses don't have the right glasses and can't see clearly, a new study reports. Poorly corrected vision may mean they are missing out on mentally stimulating activities that can ease aggravation and soothe symptoms of dementia.
"Many nursing home residents are losing out on stimulation," said study leader Dr. James M. Koch of St. Louis University. "They may not be able to see the television, read books or interact appropriately." Poor vision, Dr. Koch explained, may contribute to disorientation and isolation, limit mobility, and increase the risk of falls in someone with Alzheimer's.
Dr. Koch and fellow researchers examined 80 people with poor vision and Alzheimer's who were living in two St. Louis nursing homes. They spoke with the patients as well as nursing home staff and family caregivers about each person's visual history and their use of eyeglasses or contact lenses before and after entering the nursing home.
Of some 80 people with Alzheimer's who required glasses, eight had either lost or broken them, and another eight had insufficient eyeglass prescriptions. Another nine were too mentally impaired to ask for glasses.
"This population is less able to effectively express its needs and more likely to endure unaddressed visual deficits," the researchers wrote. "For Alzheimer's disease patients, it is important to offer appropriate corrective remedies in order to maintain as much functional independence as possible."
The researchers recommend that if you care for someone with Alzheimer's disease, a few simple steps can help avoid vision-related problems.
- Label the eyeglasses of the person with Alzheimer's so they can be rapidly identified should they become lost.
- Make sure loved ones have a spare pair of glasses in case a current pair is lost or damaged.
- Schedule vision exams every year so that lens prescriptions are up to date.
"If adequate steps are taken to prevent unnecessary visual impairment in Alzheimer's disease patients, it would limit their dependence on others, reduce the burden on nursing staff, and improve the patients' overall quality of life," the researchers concluded.
For more on Alzheimer's care and tips for caring for a loved one with the disease, visit www.ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer's Information Site. The study appeared in the July issue of the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association.
Koch JM et al. "Unmet visual needs of Alzheimer's Disease patients in long-term care facilities." Journal of the American Medical Directors Association. 2005; 6(4):233-237.