Alzheimer’s disease and the eyes

What is Alzheimer’s disease? 

Alzheimer’s disease destroys brain cells, which affects an individual’s memory, behaviour, physical abilities and thinking skills. At this present time there is no cure. 

How does Alzheimer’s disease affect the eyes?

A person with Alzheimer’s can show symptoms of vision loss and eye health issues such as:

Decreased contrast sensitivity 
Increased difficulty differentiating between an object and its background, especially at low light levels.

Reduced visual fields (peripheral vision)

Decrease in accurate eye movements
Difficulties maintaining a visual gaze in one location or following moving objects

Visual Hallucinations 
Perceiving objects that are not present.

Due to these effects, a person with Alzheimer’s may have difficulties with: 
     - Reading and writing
     - Eye-head coordination
     - Identifying and recognizing familiar objects, places, family and friends
     - Distinguishing between an object from its background  
     - Moving confidently in their own environment

Alzheimer’s disease and the role of an optometrist:

Individuals with Alzheimer’s may have a hard time explaining their vision problems to their family or caregiver. To help with this gap in communication, optometrists may use procedures that allow them to collect the required information needed to manage vision problems in patients with Alzheimer’s. 

To help patients with Alzheimer’s, optometrists suggest:
     - Arranging for regular comprehensive eye exams. This ensures eye health issues are caught and glasses prescriptions are up-to-date. 
     - Evenly lighting all rooms. Try to eliminate shadows as much as possible. 
     - Decreasing busy patterns on the walls and floors and using high contrast objects (e.g. white plates on a black table).
     - Highlighting important objects (e.g. handrail) to make them as noticeable as possible.
     - Moving slowly around a person with Alzheimer’s since it’s easier for them to follow. 

The Ontario Association of Optometrists recommend annual comprehensive eye exams for all seniors age 65 and over. Individuals in this age group are at a higher risk of eye conditions that may affect a person’s vision. Annual comprehensive eye exams, and required follow-ups are covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). 

To learn more about managing the effects Alzheimer’s has on the eyes speak with your local optometrist. 

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