Special eye tests could identify which people living with dementia are most at risk of a fall

17 February 20

written by:

Róisín Treacy

(more articles)

A woman holding a cane.

New research, jointly-funded by Fight for Sight, has found that special eye tests could help identify which people living with dementia struggle most with judging distances, which is known to increase the risk of falling.

It is hoped that the findings will help people with dementia to get the most accurate result for depth perception tests, and in turn for health professionals to identify those most at risk of having a fall.

Dr Marianne Coleman, an orthoptist at the University of Surrey, was jointly funded by a one-year Primer Fellowship Award from Fight for Sight and the Royal Society of Medicine to carry out this research.

As part of the study, twenty-four volunteers living with Alzheimer’s Disease or vascular dementia had their eyesight closely monitored over time.

Dr Coleman trialled a number of depth perception tests to determine which was the most appropriate and dementia-friendly to use. It was found that if it was carefully demonstrated to patients what they needed to do in the depth perception exam, then even those with the lowest scores on their memory tests were able to take part.

Dr Coleman said: “If you struggle with judging distances, you are at increased risk of having a fall which can really knock your confidence and have an impact on so many other aspects of life, including general health and wellbeing. This research emphasises the importance of routine sight tests for people with dementia and the need to include a suitable test of the ability to judge distances. Having good eyesight reduces your risk of falling, and the right eye tests, the right spectacles, a dementia-friendly testing technique and adequate appointment lengths can all help to ensure people living with dementia can see as well as possible.”

Depth perception problems are common in people living with dementia, however up until now, there has been very limited study in this area. Dr Coleman’s research aimed to find out if these problems get worse as dementia progresses.

Over the study’s observation period, the group of volunteers showed no significant deteriorations in their eyesight or ability to judge distances, despite a reduction in their memory test scores. Thus, Dr Coleman concluded that there was no evidence that the depth perception of those living with dementia would worsen further as the condition progressed.

Dr Coleman said: “The findings of this research suggest that changes in eyesight should not be dismissed as a simple result of dementia and should be appropriately investigated as part of a routine, dementia-friendly eye examination.”

Sherine Krause, Fight for Sight Chief Executive, said: “We are so pleased to have collaborated with the Royal Society of Medicine to fund this valuable piece of research. We hope that Dr Coleman’s findings will ensure that those living with dementia will get the most accurate result for depth perception tests, and in turn identify those most at risk of having a fall.”

The research was designed with the guidance and involvement of a person living with dementia and patient carers.

Read more about our research