The prevalence of poor vision in people living with dementia ranges from 20 to 50%, according to a new study.
The coexistence of visual impairment and dementia has been a relatively neglected research topic, but a new Australian study from the University of Sydney highlights the importance of managing poor vision in this population.

The study, published in the BMC Geriatrics journal and available here, was conducted by a group of researchers, including Vision Eye Institute’s Associate Professor Tim Roberts.

Associate Professor Tim Roberts.
“We chose to look at this topic because there is growing evidence that dementia and visual impairment increase with age, and therefore it’s likely that many people have both conditions, but there’s a lack of good-quality research about the prevalence and impact,” Roberts said.

“We analysed over 30 studies, and we had three specific areas of interest: the prevalence of visual impairment in those living with dementia, the impact of further visual impairment on dementia, and the impact on carers.”

While the findings varied across the analysed studies, there were some clear themes.

“There was a whole range of findings, which reflects the problem of how visual impairment is defined and how the studies were performed, but the prevalence of poor vision in people living with dementia ranged from as low as 20% to as high as 50%,” Roberts said.

“A more consistent finding across the studies was that the coexistence of visual impairment and dementia clearly has a greater impact on quality of life than dementia alone. The studies all showed an increased use of hospital services, increased disability and dependency, reduced social engagement, a loss of interest in hobbies and an increase in negative emotions about life.”

Roberts noted that the impact on carers had barely been studied at all.

“We could only find one published study, which unsurprisingly found that carers were often physically exhausted by the added burden of caring for someone with poor vision,” he said.

“It also suggested that there might be increased conflict between the carer and the individual they’re looking after, so this is an important area to consider.”

He said that his group’s new study emphasises the importance of managing coexisting poor vision in those living with dementia and provides directions for future targeted research.

In addition to his private practice at Vision Eye Institute Chatswood, Associate Professor Tim Roberts is Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Sydney and Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at the Royal North Shore Hospital. He is a highly experienced cataract and glaucoma surgeon.

This article was written by RHIANNON BOWMAN, published in Mivision

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