Early Stage Symptom: Vision & Spatial Problems

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2019 | Last updated: January 2023

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, you may experience a variety of symptoms that seem like normal aging, at first. As you experience these things more often or they increase in severity, you or your close family members or co-workers might suspect there might be something else going on. One of these symptoms is visuospatial problems.

Visuospatial, or visual-spatial, is a term used in regards to what we see and how we interpret spatial relationships. It encompasses the visual, or what we see with our eyes, and our perceptions of where we are in our surroundings, like how far away something is or where we are located in the bigger picture. Visuospatial problems tend to show up fairly early in Alzheimer’s disease, and gets worse as the disease progresses.1 This is because the brain helps interpret what the eyes see, and if there is brain damage in the areas that help process images, you then have problems with vision and spatial awareness.

Once you start noticing the vision or spatial problems, see your doctor for a thorough medical exam. There are various ailments that may cause vision or spatial difficulties. Rule out other disorders in order to get an accurate diagnosis, and subsequently, appropriate treatment. You may also want to see your eye doctor, to ensure there are no eye issues that might be causing these difficulties.

Vision & spatial symptoms in Alzheimer's

There are a variety of symptoms that are indicative of visuospatial difficulties, including1,2:

  • Reduced visual acuity, or how clearly you can see
  • Impairment in color vision
  • Reduced ability to see contrasts
  • Trouble reading
  • Difficulty with visual-spatial orientation and motion detection
  • Impaired depth perception
  • Reduction of visual field
  • Trouble identifying and naming objects
  • Visual agnosia, where an individual can see things but not recognize or interpret them

All of these issues can have profound effects on one’s life and daily activities. Identify this symptom early so you can get the assistance you need.

Treatment of vision & spatial symptoms

There is no specific treatment for visuospatial impairments associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but supportive care from your partner or caregiver can help tremendously. Modifying your surrounding environment can be helpful with depth perception problems, narrowed visual field, and decreased visual acuity and reduced ability to see contrast. Other things that might help can include:

  • Assistance with toileting and bathing, with positioning your body correctly and ensuring you don’t fall
  • Reminders that things on television are not actually in the room, due to lack of depth perception or trouble processing
  • Reducing excess stimulation with loud noises or lots of clutter
  • Assistance at mealtimes with eating and drinking, for spilling or finding utensils
  • Making sure your environment is well-lit
  • Increase contrast for things, like placing light things against solid dark backgrounds, for easier identification
  • Use large-print labels for objects

Depending on your particular visuospatial issues, you and your partner or caregivers can modify your environment based on things that work for you. Some people may need more modifications than others, based on their vision and perceptual impairments, while others might need only slight changes for the time being. Try different things to see what helps you best in your everyday routine.

Would you like to talk to others in the Alzheimer's community about managing symptoms? Reach out in our forums.

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