The College of Optometrists has held a parliamentary reception on dementia and visual impairment (VI). The event, which was hosted by Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth and Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, discussed the issues highlighted in the Prevalence of Visual Impairment in People with Dementia (PrOVIDe) report published by the College and the Alzheimer’s Society and funded by the Department of Health.
The event was attended by several Members of Parliament, key government bodies, patient groups and researchers. Event host, Debbie Abrahams, said; “850,000 people are living with dementia in the UK. As the UK’s population ages, we will find this number of people will rise since the risk of living with visual impairment and dementia both increase with age. The effect of having both sight loss and dementia are much more severe than those resulting from either dementia or sight loss alone. I know from personal experience of caring for my mother, who had Alzheimer’s, the effects of dealing with multiple health conditions on her, her carers and family. This is a really important issue to tackle and we want those with dementia and their carers to know that sight tests are possible for a huge number of people living with dementia.”
Speaking at the event, Michael Bowen, director of research at the College of Optometrists and chief investigator for the PrOVIDe study, said: “PrOVIDe represents a milestone for research into vision and eye health among people living with dementia in the UK. The data from the project gives us evidence that people living with dementia can engage with most of the key elements of an eye examination. The College is beginning to take forward the key outcomes from the project in ways that will lead to changes in the way we work and improvements to the information that we give to eye health professionals and people living with dementia. We are hoping for support by taking action on three key points. Please ask your local commissioners to include a full sight test in their dementia care pathways. Raise awareness of the importance of good vision to people living with dementia and encourage your national government to have visual assessment embedded in their countrywide dementia strategies.”
Agnes Houston MBE lives with dementia and visual impairment and spoke at the event: “Shortly after I was diagnosed with dementia I began having trouble with my vision. It took six years to get a diagnosis of neurological vision impairment which is caused by dementia affecting my brain’s ability to process my eyes signals. We need to have systems in place to prevent others going through this emotional turmoil. It’s important that the person with dementia and their care partners are given knowledge, understanding and help.”
Dr Rakhee Shah, lecturer in clinical optometry at City University and researcher on the PrOVIDe project also spoke at the event; “The most important factor is giving a person with dementia additional time during an eye examination – this is absolutely crucial to success. The optometrist will need to adapt their eye examination depending on the cognitive ability of the person with dementia, concentrating on those parts of the eye examination that require little subjective input from people who may be severely cognitively impaired. I find it helpful to speak to an informed carer in advance to obtain information on the patients’ level of cognitive impairment, capacity and level of cooperation and to involve the carer during the various stages of the eye examination to provide reassurance to the patient.”
The PrOVIDe study found that prevalence of visual impairment (VI) in those with dementia is generally higher than for the overall population, highlighting the importance of sight tests in this group of people. The research also found that almost 50 per cent of those living with dementia and VI were no longer classified as visually impaired when wearing their up-to-date spectacle prescription and that VI was approximately 2-2.5 times more common for those people with dementia living in care homes than for those living in their own home.
The College of Optometrists is now working with the Dementia Research Centre Team at UCL to explore which vision tests work best for people living with dementia, and with VISION 2020 UK’s Dementia and Sight Loss Committee to develop further research into the impact of cataract surgery in dementia.