A woman sits in a chair looking at the ophthalmoscope in front of her

Eye Health and Alzheimer's: Navigating the Eye Doctor’s Office

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia. About 6.7 million people over the age of 65 in the United States have Alzheimer's disease. For people between 30 and 64, that number is about 200,000.1,2

Alzheimer's disease affects memory, thinking, and language skills. Symptoms get worse over time. This makes it hard for people with Alzheimer's to care for themselves. While there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, there are treatments.3

How are vision and dementia linked?

One in 5 adults over 65 has sensory issues, including vision or hearing loss.4

Vision problems such as cataracts are a risk for dementia. Cataracts happen when the lens of your eyes becomes cloudy. They are most common among seniors. And seniors are the most likely to develop dementia. The link may be that vision problems affect someone's ability to socialize.4

Social isolation is also a risk for dementia. So is a decrease in physical activity, which can be affected by vision loss. Having cataracts may also speed up neurodegeneration. Neurodegeneration takes place when nerve cells decay and die. Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative disease.4,5

A 2020 study looked at the connection between vision problems and dementia risk. The researchers studied people over 65 who had their cataracts surgically removed. The researchers found that this group had a significantly lower risk of developing dementia.4

The study did not find a connection between surgery for glaucoma and dementia risk. Glaucoma happens when fluid builds up in the front part of the eye. The fluid buildup creates pressure, which damages the optic nerve. Symptoms include blurry vision. Peripheral (side) vision may also get worse.6

Alzheimer's disease and eye exams

Eye health remains important after an Alzheimer's diagnosis. An optometrist or ophthalmologist can check for signs of cataracts or glaucoma. The doctor will see if the person with Alzheimer's needs glasses. If they already have glasses, the doctor will make sure the prescription is correct.7

Vision loss can add to the sense of isolation a person with Alzheimer's may feel. It can lead to more confusion, too. Having their vision tested and receiving any needed treatment may ease that discomfort.7

Tips for a visit to the eye doctor

A doctor's appointment can be stressful for someone with Alzheimer's disease. Here are some tips to make the visit go smoothly.

Before the visit

Plan a good time for the appointment: What time of day is the person with Alzheimer's at their best? Are there times when the doctor's office is less busy? If the person has complex medical needs, would a few shorter visits be better than a single long one?7,8

Write down concerns to discuss with the doctor. This will lead to a more productive visit. Bring a list of any medicines and supplements the person takes.7,8

During the visit

Be ready to answer the doctor's questions about symptoms. Not just vision problems but overall health, mood, and behavior. If the doctor prescribes a new drug, find out what time of day it should be given. Get information about side effects. Ask how long it will take to see improvements.7,8

After the visit

If you are the caretaker of someone with Alzheimer's disease, use simple language to explain the doctor's instructions. If something needs repeating, use the same words each time. You can return to the topic later if the person becomes frustrated. As always, showing patience and compassion will lead to the best outcome.9

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