How to help people with sight loss and dementia
There are various factors that may affect the way someone with dementia manages or interprets visual information.
We asked Vicky Rushworth and Dave Smith who provide Vision Impairment and Dementia Awareness Training, for some advice. Here they share their knowledge, tips and insights.
There are approximately 1 in 30 people in the UK living with sight loss, this increases to 1 in 5 people aged 75 and over and 1 in 2 people over 90. So, whatever the age of someone with dementia, there is a high possibility that they might also have a sight condition or at least deteriorating eyesight.
Many types of dementia can have a visual impact. For example, Alzheimer’s can cause difficulties for people perceiving things in 3D, vascular dementia can cause visual mistakes and misperceptions (for example seeing a rug as a pond) and dementia with Lewy bodies can cause visual hallucinations.
There are also a huge range of sight conditions which have different implications for people’s sight. For example, the effects of cataracts can be exacerbated by glare, meaning that someone might find a brightly lit room uncomfortable or be able to see less on a very sunny day making them more hesitant when outside.
Add to this the fact that the brain is constantly trying to make sense of the images it sees – the classic quote of ‘We see with our brains not with our eyes’ (Paul Bach-y-Rita) – means other factors can also be called into play. For example, Dave, who has a sight condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, was delivering training at quite a posh venue and was surprised to notice a huge clock on a wall at the far end of the room, which had stationery hands. He commented to a colleague ‘you’d think they could afford a working clock.’ She then described to him the big piece of artwork on the wall: a picture of a door ajar with light shining through it – creating the shape Dave had seen of two hands of a clock... Dave’s brain had worked overtime to make sense of the image that he saw.
So, if someone with dementia is finding a task difficult, is that because of their dementia, a sight condition, or a mixture of both? Apart from obviously recommending people seek medical advice and support regarding any concerns, it can be very difficult to determine what is making a task difficult. We don’t pretend to have any quick fix solutions, but through our training, we are able to share a great deal of knowledge, experiences and personal anecdotes that might offer more options to consider.
Some are quick wins whilst others may require more consideration or some training.
We provide a few ideas and examples here…
And the one we can’t stress enough…
Allow plenty of it. This applies to allowing extra time to undertake a task or a journey but also to explaining things properly and communicating effectively.
VIDA Training is run by business partners Vicky and Dave. They have more than 35 years combined experience in the disability field, and experience of family members living with dementia. We run a variety of training courses both for organisations and individuals including courses for family and friends. We also write a weekly blog. For more information about us and our training services go to www.vidatraining.co.uk.
[The accompanying photo was taken when Vicky and Dave attended the Margaret Butterworth awards hosted by Dementia Pathfinders. It shows Dave and Vicky taking part in the seated dance part of the event].
We’re always interested to know about other people’s experiences and thoughts. Please share these by commenting…
Interested to learn more about VIDA Training? Read about our Training and Consultancy packages, specialising in Vision Impairment and Disability Awareness, Communication and Team Building or contact us for further information.