The Alzheimer's Eye Sees Things Differently
The changes in the brain caused by Alzheimer's Disease can also cause changes in how the affected person sees things. Although an opthalmologist may not be able to detect any actual changes in the eyes, the ability of the brain with Alzheimer's to interpret what it sees can be reduced. The inability to "see" clearly can make coping with the disease even more difficult, both the the affected person and for caregivers.
Depth perception is often reduced. This means, for example, that a person with Alzheimer's can no longer accurately judge how far away the floor might be. Experienced caregivers believe that this may be one of the reasons that their loved ones are fearful of getting into the bathtub. They can't judge how deep the bottom of the tub is, and they are therefore fearful of stepping in. Experts have also long noted that people with the disease tend to avoid stepping on a dark mat or rug on the floor. It appears that these "dark spots" look like deep holes to be avoided.
Color perception also seems to be affected. Although most of us do lose some ability to discern subtle contrast between colors as our eyes age, people with Alzheimer's Disease seem to experience a greater loss. They appear to have the greatest difficulty differentiating colors in the blue-violet spectrum. Red appears to be the easiest color for people with Alzheimer's Disease to perceive.
This can make it more difficult for them to see a white door on a white or cream wall. Bathrooms done in shades of white, with a white floor, white walls and a white toilet can be particularly difficult. The toilet effectively disappears.
As Alzheimer's progresses, caregivers might find it beneficial to try some of the following tips collected from caregivers:
• Painting baseboards and door trim bright red or orange makes it easier to see where the floor ends and the walls and doorways begin. Strips of wide tape will create the same effect without being permanent.
• Replace a white toilet seat with a bright red seat. Place a bright red rubber mat on the bottom of the tub or on the floor of the shower.
• If you are adding grab bars in your bathroom, don't choose white bars that will blend in with your white tile. Your person with Alzheimer's may not be able to see them. Choose bars that will contrast with your walls.
• Increase the amount of light indoors. Use sheer curtains to reduce glare without reducing the amount of available light during the day. Use larger bulbs in fixtures, and be sure to turn them all on as daylight fades. Add lighting to hallways and other dark areas to reduce the contrast between dark and light areas.
• Use bright strips of contrasting tape on the outer edges of stairs and other steps to mark changes in elevation.
• If you are planning to change carpeting or other flooring, choose solid colors. Patterns on the floor can add to confusion. Use the same strategy with your walls. Patterned wallpaper is more confusing than solid colors.
• Use a white table cover or white place mats and bright red dishes to create as much contrast as possible for meals. Studies have shown that people with Alzheimer's disease ate more when using bright red plates.
• Be particularly watchful of small brown pets lying on the floor. Animals that are not moving can "disappear" to a person with Alzheimer's and be a real trip risk.