The prevalence of visual impairment is higher among people with dementia from compared to the overall population, research by the College of Optometrists reports.
Highlighting the importance of sight tests in this group of people, the College also found that visual impairment was more common in people with dementia who are living in care homes in comparison to those living at home.
The Prevalence of Visual Impairment in People with Dementia (PrOVIDe) research aimed to measure the prevalence of a range of vision problems in people with dementia aged between 60 and 89 to determine the extent to which their vision conditions are undetected or inappropriately managed.
Of those with dementia and visual impairment, 32.5% had visual acuity worse than 6/12, the legal standard for driving, while 16.3% had visual acuity worse than 6/18, a standard used internationally for defining when someone is visually impaired. Furthermore, while 16% of participants could not read standard newspaper-size print with their current spectacles, almost two thirds of these participants could read this print when wearing a new prescription following a dementia-friendly sight test.
Unfortunately, 22% of those questioned admitted had a sight test in the last two years, while 19 people said they had not had one for over a decade.
The College highlighted how these findings emphasise the need for optometrists to allow more time when examining people with dementia, as well as for carers accompanying patients to an eye exam to know the individual and have relevant information to hand.
When speaking to optometrists, researchers found that practitioners are not always informed that an individual has dementia before their examination takes place and that they do not feel enough training and support is provided to help them test the sight of patients with dementia.
Director of research at the College of Optometrists, Mike Bowden, who was also the chief investigator on the study, said: “We hope that this research will help professionals to understand the importance of vision to those with dementia. This in turn, can help us to provide better care and help improve quality of life for this growing group within the population.”
Reflecting on the findings, he added: “Optometrists are not always informed when an individual has dementia, which is a very significant factor in achieving the best outcome for the individual. We’ve also learned that some optometrists do not think that they have enough training or support to effectively examine the sight of those with dementia and we will work to provide up-to-date training resources to our members as part of our strategy to implement the report’s findings.”
Welcoming the study, James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We know all too well how important it is for people affected by dementia to access good quality eye care. This study helps to address the vast misconception that it is difficult or impossible for people living with dementia to get an eye test. It is not only possible but hugely important.”
He added: “We need to make sure that both eye professionals and people affected by dementia understand the importance of accessing eye care, and how correcting vision impairments can make a significant difference to the lives of people living with dementia.”
The project, which was funded and published by the National Institute for Health Research, was led by the College in collaboration with a range of bodies, including the Thomas Pocklington Trust, Alzheimer’s Society, City, University of London, University of Birmingham, University of Newcastle, Trinity College Dublin and University College London.
The research was launched during a parliamentary reception on Tuesday (25 April), which was sponsored by MP Debbie Abrahams, chair of the Dementia APPG. It was held to raise awareness of the issues related to vision and dementia.