'Dementia Eyes': Do They Look Different? (2024)

Dementia is associated with vision impairment, but the exact relationship isn’t fully understood.

Dementia often occurs alongside eyesight problems, possibly because dementia and vision issues are more common as you age. This can cause additional confusion and upset for the person with dementia.

Dementia affects the parts of the brain that process visual information. This might make it difficult to see and process what you’re seeing. As a result, a person with dementia could have healthy eyes but still struggle to see clearly.

Maintaining healthy vision and correcting vision problems can help you maintain a high quality of life, especially if you have dementia.

Dementia and vision loss often co-occur.

Dementia develops from the degeneration of neurons (brain cells) or changes in how neurons function. This results in cognitive decline.

When we see, our eyes take in information from the objects that surround us. Light reflects into our eyes, which feed into the lens, the retina, and then the optic nerve. The optic nerve transmits information from the retina to the brain. Our brain then processes this information.

Neural degeneration can affect the parts of your brain that process sight. Although it’s possible to have dementia and healthy eyes, the degeneration of your neurons might make it more difficult to see.

Dementia and vision problems might also co-occur because both conditions are more common among older adults. Age-related vision loss can develop from conditions like macular degeneration and cataracts.

A 2023 research review found that visual impairment is actually associated with an increased risk of dementia. In fact, people with visual impairments had a 60% higher risk of developing dementia or cognitive impairment.

However, the nature of this link isn’t clear. More research is needed to determine whether vision loss could cause cognitive decline or vice versa.

What does dementia vision look like?

In dementia, vision impairment can include a range of sight issues. A person’s vision will depend on their specific eye condition if they have one. Not all people with dementia will have the same vision issues.

You can’t tell whether someone has dementia by looking in their eyes or at their face.

However, their facial expressions might seem inappropriate for certain situations. For example, a person with dementia might laugh in serious situations or cry without a discernible cause. They might also appear confused.

You might also notice changes in their personality or mood. They might appear depressed, or be more frustrated or angry than usual. This might be perceptible through their nonverbal body language, such as their facial expression or gestures.

If you’re concerned that you or a loved one is experiencing cognitive decline, reach out to a doctor about getting screened for dementia.

Although more research is needed on the link between dementia and visual impairment, some research has identified specific eye conditions associated with dementia.

Researchers in a 2021 study investigated whether visual impairments could contribute to the development of dementia.

Researchers found that age-related macular degeneration when in combination with stroke, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression was linked to an increased risk of dementia.

Researchers also found that cataracts and diabetes-related eye disease were associated with a higher risk of dementia. However, it’s unclear whether these eye conditions caused dementia or vice versa, or whether a third mediating factor is at play.

If you or a loved one has dementia, it’s worth speaking with an eye doctor regularly. They can help detect and correct possible eye problems, which can improve your quality of life.

Sometimes, vision changes might be mistaken for hallucinations in people with dementia.

For example, a person with dementia and compromised depth perception might try to hold something that’s farther away from them than they think. It can appear as if they’re grabbing at air, but they’re actually underestimating their distance from the object.

Similarly, they might struggle to recognize a person because their eyesight is compromised, and mistakenly call them by another name. It may seem like they’re hallucinating, but they’re not.

That said, it is possible for someone with dementia to hallucinate. They might see, hear, smell, feel, or taste something that’s not actually there.

If you think you or a loved one is experiencing hallucinations, talk with a doctor. If you’re not sure whether visual impairment may be playing a role, consider making an appointment with an eye doctor.

You can’t tell whether someone has dementia by looking in their eyes. However, vision loss commonly occurs among people with dementia.

It’s not clear whether vision loss causes dementia or vice versa. It may be that both sight loss and dementia are more common among older adults.

Whether you have dementia or not, it’s advisable to have your vision checked regularly. You can ensure that your glasses or corrective lenses are up to date and clean. Caring for your vision (or your loved one’s vision) can improve your quality of life.

'Dementia Eyes': Do They Look Different? (2024)

FAQs

Do dementia patients' eyes look different? ›

A 2017 study found that for someone with frontotemporal dementia eyes, thinning of the retina occurs similarly to those with Alzheimer's disease or ALS but in a different location in the retina. Therefore, an eye exam can help not only diagnose dementia but the type of dementia someone may be developing.

What is the eye test for dementia? ›

A new study has found that people with Alzheimer's had fewer blood vessels and less blood flow in the retina (back of their eye). The Alzheimer-linked eye changes were detected by an eye test that uses a scanning technique called Octa (optical coherence tomography angiography).

Does dementia cause facial changes? ›

Alzheimer's disease causes the person to develop a mask-like facial expression. This minimizes typical facial expressions of pain, like a drawn mouth or furrowed brows. Also, patients may have lost the cognitive ability to tell caregivers about their pain with phrases such as "this hurts" or "I am in pain."

What is the general appearance of dementia patient? ›

Several strong visual clues can indicate that someone may have dementia such as Alzheimer's disease. For example, a person with dementia may have changes in the way they walk or move and/or their facial expressions may seem inappropriate in some situations.

What is the dementia stare? ›

Reduced gaze” is the clinical term for the dementia symptom that alters people's ability to move their eyes normally. “We all move our eyes and track with them frequently,” says Rankin. But people showing early signs of dementia look like they're staring a lot.

What might be physical noticeable characteristics of dementia? ›

bladder incontinence is common in the later stages of dementia, and some people will also experience bowel incontinence. appetite and weight loss problems are both common in advanced dementia. Many people have trouble eating or swallowing, and this can lead to choking, chest infections and other problems.

How may your eyes reveal early signs of dementia? ›

Some people living with Alzheimer's or other dementia could experience vision changes. This may lead to difficulty with balance or trouble reading. They may also have problems judging distance and determining color or contrast, causing issues with driving.

What is the famous face test for dementia? ›

The Famous Faces Naming Test was designed to assess face identification and naming. Twenty-two colored portrait photographs of public figures were selected. Some of them had remained famous for a limited period in the past, while others were current celebrities.

What is a quick test for dementia? ›

The Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) is an 11-item test that takes five to 10 minutes to administer (Folstein et al., 1975). Scoring: suggested cut-off of 24 or less out of 30 should raise concerns about possible dementia.

What is dementia posture? ›

Some people, especially those with Lewy body dementia, develop what is known as dementia posturing. Stiffness, stooping, and shuffling are all potential physical signs of the condition. Dementia progresses through early, middle, and late stages.

How does your body tell you dementia is coming? ›

Although the early signs vary, common early symptoms of dementia include: memory problems, particularly remembering recent events. increasing confusion. reduced concentration.

What is the number one trigger for dementia behavior? ›

Pain or Discomfort: General pain, side effects from medications, lack of sleep, and inability to describe their discomfort are all common symptoms that can trigger aggressive behavior or lashing out. Environment: This is the most common trigger for aggressive behavior in dementia patients.

Do people with dementia look different? ›

You can't tell whether someone has dementia by looking in their eyes or at their face. However, their facial expressions might seem inappropriate for certain situations. For example, a person with dementia might laugh in serious situations or cry without a discernible cause. They might also appear confused.

What are the strange behaviors of dementia patients? ›

Many people with dementia become restless and may fidget or pace up and down. They may constantly wring their hands, pull at their clothes or touch themselves inappropriately in public. This could be because of pain or discomfort, needing the toilet, a need for more physical activity or problems with their environment.

Does a person with dementia know they are confused? ›

In the earlier stages, memory loss and confusion may be mild. The person with dementia may be aware of — and frustrated by — the changes taking place, such as difficulty recalling recent events, making decisions or processing what was said by others. In the later stages, memory loss becomes far more severe.

How do your eyes warn you about dementia? ›

You can't tell whether someone has dementia by looking in their eyes. However, vision loss commonly occurs among people with dementia. It's not clear whether vision loss causes dementia or vice versa. It may be that both sight loss and dementia are more common among older adults.

What are Alzheimer's eyes? ›

The researchers found that amyloid deposits in the retina were five times higher in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and nine times higher in those with Alzheimer's, compared to cognitively unimpaired individuals. In all cases, the deposits were unevenly distributed across the retina.

How does your body warn you that dementia is forming? ›

Early symptoms of dementia

memory problems, particularly remembering recent events. increasing confusion. reduced concentration. personality or behaviour changes.

What does dementia look like physically? ›

Dementia is likely to have a big physical impact on the person in the later stages of the condition. They may gradually lose their ability to walk, stand or get themselves up from the chair or bed. They may also be more likely to fall.

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