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  • Sharon Daltrey

How are we monitoring sensory deficits in our friends with dementia?

I’ve recently been diagnosed with visual vertigo, I’m taking the tablets and it’s all settled down now, but the experience has given me an insight into the visual problems our friends with dementia may have.

You see, I wasn’t sure what the problem was, I had two cataracts replaced last year and since then things have been, well, just odd. I’m told this is a rare side effect of the surgery so please don’t worry about having it yourself, it’s so much better to be able to see properly and drive again. I just put it down to having ‘new eyes’ and waited for it to settle down and my brain to catch up. But it never did. The symptoms when moving around were, while not distressing, very disconcerting. There seemed to be a distinct lag in vision when moving my head, or indeed myself, creating a jerky, inconsistent effect. Consequently, I had a couple of minor falls for no apparent reason that I could pinpoint at the time, I would feel slightly nauseous and shaky at times (when cleaning the house for example, all that bending down) and I kept knocking things over. When I eventually took myself off to the doctors I was prescribed an anti-psychotic (off-label use) and everything has now, thankfully, settled down. Since being back to ‘normal’ I’ve noticed several other annoying features of the vertigo by their absence alone. Even when sitting still there was still a slight sensation of moving, a shimmer to my peripheral vision and I would often jump at imaginary things out of the corner of my eye. I’m a little bit stunned at the deficit I was living with without really being aware. The benefits of being able to see properly again have been immense no more shakiness, no more falling over or knocking things and my confidence in moving around or doing anything has massively improved.

Now I’m a relatively fit and active 63 year old, but this situation crept up on me and I couldn’t articulate what was happening to me or even be fully aware that anything had happened and it occurs to me this may be similar to the situation our aging friends with dementia may have. I know that during his Alzheimers, my Dad forgot that he even used glasses and it became impossible to convince him that he needed them, what other problems might he have had that he couldn't articulate?

When we’re designing our activities to be used in dementia we routinely take into account the known possible visual deficits our users might be experiencing but after my experience I wonder how much of their sensory deprivation might we be missing? How do we know what we don’t know? Who is looking for the answer? How are they looking for the answer? Are they asking the right questions? I know the uplift in confidence I’ve had since being able to work my eyes and brain together has been somewhat transformational and I really hope that this aspect of dementia’s effects will be understood better in the future.

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