One of the initial signs of dementia in older adults could be eye-related issues or vision impairment. Eye problems in dementia reduce the stimulation of the patient’s sensory pathways, thereby accelerating the progress of dementia.
Research has suggested a link between ophthalmic issues that result in vision distortion and cognitive impairment. In addition, ophthalmic conditions occur more as someone ages, and so do systematic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, which are known to increase the risk associated with mental illness.
UK Biobank conducted a study to explore whether ophthalmic conditions are individually responsible for a higher risk of dementia. This study assessed 12,364 individuals between the ages of 55 to 73 from 2005 to 2010. It was followed up for 11 years till 2021.
The participants of this study were asked if they suffered from medical conditions such as depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease.
The study ended up showing that apart from glaucoma, other vision-related problems, including cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetes-related eye disease, were individually linked to a higher risk of dementia.
When combined with other medical conditions, these could accelerate one’s risk of dementia. Age-related macular degeneration, in particular, was proven to put someone at a greater risk of developing mental illness.
Eye Problems Associated with Dementia:
When someone with dementia begins to behave in a strange manner, one might assume it’s because they are hallucinating. However, the issue could be because of the changes they experience in terms of vision.
Although hallucination can be a symptom of dementia, it makes the loved ones of the patient wonder if their health is slowly declining, which can be stressful for both the patient and the caregiver.
Being aware of the vision changes that accompany dementia can help in understanding why someone is behaving the way they are, enabling you to look after them better. Some of the eye or vision problems associated with mental illness are:
Narrowing Down Your Field of Vision:
A person’s normal peripheral vision reduces as they age, which is why when someone reaches the age of 75 or so, they cannot notice things as clearly as they did during their younger years.
With dementia, however, the individual’s field of vision narrows down further, coming to around 12 inches, almost giving them the feeling of looking through everything with a set of binoculars. Naturally, it would be difficult to move around properly if one had to look through binoculars all day.
Brain Functions Differently:
Once someone’s dementia progresses, their brain cannot function properly enough to receive information from their own eyes. Therefore, this could lead them to take in information from just one eye, which means they stop seeing from the other.
When this happens, the patient can no longer comprehend if something is three-dimensional or two-dimensional. This makes it harder for an older adult to identify if an object is real or just a picture, if the thing on the floor is a design or an actual item, or even what the height of a chair is.
Behavioral Changes Caused by Changes in Vision:
A person with dementia might begin to behave weirdly due to the fact that their vision gets distorted. Although their behavior could seem strange to an outsider, it’s not so for the patient because they lose their perception of depth or distance.
For example, find an older adult trying to grasp something in the air. It could be because they are trying to switch on the lights without realizing that it’s farther away than they think.
Similarly, they could be bending and making certain hand gestures. When seen out of context, this might seem strange. However, they are probably trying to look for something on the floor, not knowing that the floor is a few more inches away.
The study done by UK Biobank showed that those who have multiple eye-related conditions are at a bigger risk of developing dementia.
It also stated that the presence of two eye conditions along with health problems, such as depression or diabetes, meant that the person is three times more likely to get dementia.
Acquaint yourself with the common eye conditions that are associated with dementia. By doing so, you can consult a doctor early on and get your loved one the help they need.