Research shows visual confusion link with dementia

Research carried out by Boston University suggests that a person suffering from the effects of dementia may also experience visual confusion relating to the disease. It is estimated that of the 750,000 people in the UK with dementia, at least 100,000 will also have serious sight loss.

Dr Declan McKeefry of Bradford University School of Optometry and Vision Science has identified three main types of sight loss associated with dementia. A specific eye condition might occur at the same time as dementia; some forms of dementia affect vision, including perception of colour, depth and detail; and, thirdly, normal ageing of the eyes plays an important role since most people with dementia are over the age of 75.

Sight impairment can prevent a person with dementia from distinguishing colour contrasts and the tonality of colours. Introducing colour and tonal contrasts can help emphasize important features, such as the contrast between walls and floor coverings, the edge of stairs or level changes, so they are easy to distinguish and therefore help to minimise falls. Contrasts can also be used to focus on important doors, such as the door to the bathroom. Debbie Fox of Anchor Dementia Team explained that, at Trinity Lodge in Coventry, all the toilet doors are the same colour, have a sign that says ‘toilet’ and a picture. “So a person with dementia has three opportunities to recognise that it is the toilet door: the colour, the word and the picture”.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) advises that toilet seats, handrails and towels should all be easy to identify. When using the bathroom, a person with dementia may become more confused if the walls, fittings and furnishings are all white, as it can be difficult to distinguish one surface from another. If a red toilet seat is fitted, however, it is much easier for the person to see. This is also true of grab rails, which if red or blue, rather than white or chrome, can be seen and used more easily. As SCIE point out, even something as simple as providing a bar of soap that is a different colour from the sink on which it sits, can prompt a person to wash their hands when they might otherwise forget.

Paula Spencer of has produced an insightful article into the difficulties faced by those with visual confusion brought on by dementia. The feature, which focuses on the research carried out by Boston University, gives much practical advice on how to assist someone with sight confusion:

If you are thinking of installing a red toilet seat or signs on the bathroom door, you might like to take a look at the following website:

We would love to hear about any ideas carers have had in assisting relatives with dementia. Please leave your comments below.