Researchers from the University of Melbourne have developed resources for clinicians and patients to support people living with dementia to see as well as possible for as long as possible.
Good eyesight allows people with dementia to live independently for longer, by supporting improved spatial navigation and interaction with visual memory aids like calendars and smartphone apps. It can also support their wellbeing by making it easier to engage in hobbies and other activities such as gardening, art classes, exercise, and visiting family members.
The importance of eye health to people with dementia was underscored in the 2022 World Alzheimer’s Report, which stated that the “long-term goal of addressing sensory health in dementia is to create environments and opportunities that enable people to be and do what they value throughout their lives”.
Regular eye examinations enable the early detection of sight-threatening diseases and prompt referral to specialist eye care services to preserve or restore sight. Medicare-subsidised yearly eye examinations are available for Australians aged over 65, as the risk of developing a sight-threatening eye disease begins to increase exponentially after this age.
However, people living with dementia are more likely to be overdue for an eye test and experience preventable sight loss compared to people without dementia. In one study, a third of participants with dementia had some form of visual impairment, with nearly half of this group only needing a simple update to their prescription glasses to restore sight.
Developing the solution
To break down barriers to eyecare for people living with dementia, Dr Marianne Coleman and Dr Bao Nguyen from the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences at the University of Melbourne are making regular eye tests easier, more comfortable and more accessible for people living with dementia and their support person/s through several avenues.
Firstly, they have advocated for people living with dementia to find an optometrist who understands the condition through upskilling the optometry workforce. Secondly, they have shared their research widely (for example during Dementia Action Week), to people in the community, optometrists and other health professionals including general practitioners, to help people with dementia and their carers understand the importance of disclosing their diagnosis to their optometrist so that care can be adjusted accordingly.
A training course for optometrists about dementia-friendly eyecare has also been developed, as well as information booklets for people with dementia and their support person/s to inform them about eye tests and eye care at home. These resources have been designed with dementia advocates with lived experience of dementia or of being a carer, who reviewed the booklet content and design layout for clarity and usability. Dementia advocates also reviewed training course learning objectives, module quotes and case scenarios to ensure they sensitively represented people living with dementia and carers.
Optometry Australia has modified their Find an Optometrist search tool to include ‘dementia-friendly’ as an option, and as part of Dementia Action Week ran a social media campaign to encourage Australian optometrists to update their profiles.
Since this recent change, there are now 18 optometrists nationally who now offer dementia-friendly eye care. The training course for optometrists about dementia-friendly eyecare will launch in December 2023, and as more clinicians complete the course, more optometrists in Australia will become confident adapting their clinical practice to support patients who are living with dementia, and sharing this proficiency through the Find an Optometrist function.
This will make it easier for people living with dementia and carers to find a dementia-friendly optometrist near them.
The information booklets for people living with dementia and their carers have been published and are now freely available online to the more than 400,000 people living with dementia in Australia today.
A tweet by Optometry Australia during Dementia Action Week to promote the booklets received over 3,500 views and interactions. These booklets have been provided to Dementia Australia, and dementia and carer support organisations in Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and beyond.
These booklets contain a pocket card to discreetly declare a dementia diagnosis during an eye test consultation and indicate key areas of difficulty for the patient, such as communication skills or energy levels. In the online version, this can be printed at home. At a recent breakfast event, staff from dementia support organisation Men’s Shed noted how people picking up the booklets started conversations about dementia, vision and hearing health.
By responding to some of the barriers identified in the research, these resources are improving the accessibility of eye care services for people living with dementia, supporting them to see as well as possible for as long as possible.
- Dr Marianne Coleman, Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences, Melbourne School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.
- Dr Bao Nguyen, Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences, Melbourne School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.
- Dr Jenny Conrick, Department of Social Work, Melbourne School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.
- Professor Lynette Joubert, Department of Social Work, Melbourne School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.
- Mobile Learning Unit, Melbourne Medical School, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences
- Why everybody living with dementia needs regular eye tests | Pursuit | 19 September 2023
- Dr Marianne Coleman: Creating dementia-friendly eyecare | YouTube | April 6 2023
- Einstein A Go-Go (first 12.5 minutes) | RRR Radio | 24 September 2023
- Helping people living with dementia to look after their eyes | ARIIA | 20 September 2023
First published on 7 November 2023.
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