Vision Check Might Help Alzheimer's Patients

There are three simple steps that might improve the life of Alzheimer'spatients in nursing homes.

Suggestions from a new study include:

— Get their vision checked annually or biannually.

— Buy them an extra pair of glasses.

— Label the glasses in case the patient loses them.

That advice comes from James Koch, MD, and colleagues in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association.

Nearly a third of Alzheimer's patients in two St. Louis nursing homes had glasses that were lost, broken, or too weak, Koch and colleagues report.

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Easy Solution, Big Impact

Alzheimer's currently has no cure, but poor eyesight can often be fixed. Helping patients see clearly could make a world of difference to those who can't express or meet their own needs.

"If adequate steps are taken to prevent unnecessary visual impairment in Alzheimer's disease patients, it would limit their dependence on others, reduce the burden on nursing staff, and improve the patients' overall quality of life," states Koch, in a news release.

Koch is a resident in the internal medicine department of St. Louis University's medical school.

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Vision Study

Koch and colleagues studied 85 Alzheimer's patients at two St. Louis nursing homes. The nursing homes were privately run and typical of nursing homes nationwide, write the researchers.

Eighty patients needed eyeglasses. But 25 of them had not been wearing eyeglasses since entering the nursing home.

Nine patients were too demented to ask for their glasses. Eight had broken or lost their glasses. Another eight patients had eyeglasses that no longer met their visual needs, the researchers write.

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Bad Vision Can Make Life Tougher

"Many nursing home residents are losing out on stimulation. They may not be able to see the television, read books, or interact appropriately," states Koch.

"The loss of visual stimulation may cause disorientation limit a patient's mobility, and increase the risk of falls," he continues. "These patients may become so sensory deprived that they are virtually shut off from the outside world."

Labeling, updating, and duplicating glasses could help prevent that, Koch suggests.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Koch, J. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, July-Aug. 2005; vol 6: pp 233-237. News release, St. Louis University.