"Many nursing home residents are losing out on stimulation. They may not be able to see the television, read books or interact appropriately," said James M. Koch, M.D., principal investigator and a resident in the department of internal medicine at Saint Louis University.
The research is some of the first to examine the effect of visual impairment on Alzheimer's disease patients in nursing homes, said George T. Grossberg, M.D., director of the division of geriatric psychiatry at Saint Louis University School of Medicine and a co-author of the study.
Koch interviewed nearly 100 nursing home patients and determined that one third of them were not using or did not have glasses that were strong enough to correct their eyesight.
They had either lost their glasses, broken them or had prescriptions that were no longer sufficient. Several of the patients were too cognitively impaired to ask for help.
Vision problems make it difficult for a person to function and can aggravate symptoms of dementia, Koch said.
"The loss of visual stimulation may cause disorientation, limit a patient's mobility and increase the risk of falls. Everyday activities such as reading or watching television may also be difficult. These patients may become so sensory deprived that they are virtually shut off from the outside world."
The research recommends labeling eyewear so it can be returned to its owner in case it is misplaced, having a spare pair of glasses to replace a missing pair and ensuring all nursing home residents receive annual or biannual eye exams.
"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," Koch says.
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first M.D. degree west of the Mississippi River. Saint Louis University School of Medicine is a pioneer in geriatric medicine, organ transplantation, chronic disease prevention, cardiovascular disease, neurosciences and vaccine research, among others. The School of Medicine trains physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health services on a local, national and international level.