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Living with Dementia: What Does the Person "See"?

Posted by on 4/19/2014 to Communication Tips
These pictures from the Alzheimer's Association and shot by photographer Maggie Zulovic of the Grupo Gallegos Advertising Agency of what the person living with dementia "sees" tells an enlightening story. In these photos, a depiction of what the person might be seeing as he looks at his daughter, husband, and grandson is shown. Read on to see the photos and some explanations of what might be happening.

Person Living with Dementia "Sees" Her Daughter

The person with dementia has their field of vision narrow as the disease progresses.  So the person does not take in all the information that you and I might see in our environment.  By mid-stage, the field of vision is about a 12 inches in front and on the sides.  Hold your hands up alongside the sides of your face, with fingers curled toward each other across the forehead.  This gives you an idea what it is like to have a field of vision that has shrunk.  So because of incomplete information that this person has received, the view of her daughter is skewed.

Person Living with Dementia "Sees" Her Husband

The person with dementia loses the ability to notice the details in things around them, as the disease progresses.  This is because the abstract functions of the brain fail and the brain functions become more concrete, more black and white.  This affects all aspects of the person's daily life - communication, performing daily tasks, and interacting with the environment and other people.  This is why the person may forget to turn off the stove when cooking or use too much sugar in their cereal or think that someone 'stole' something when in fact you explain that the item is at the dry cleaners or that it was sold at a garage sale long ago.  Because of altered information, with the details missing, this person "sees" her husband  differently.

Person Living with Dementia "Sees" Her Grandson

The person with dementia loses the functioning of their 'working memory' as the disease progresses.  In normal brain function, the person takes in information from the environment, filters out what is not needed, compares information to past experiences, considers the current circumstances - and more- before the brain determines an output or an action.  For example, when a deciding what to wear when leaving the house, you might check the temperature, see if there is rain, and think about how much time you will actually spend outside.  The person with dementia may see it is raining out the window (i.e. this fact enters their brain), but the thought disappears before any decision about what to wear outside is made.  The person may not even note until they are outside in the cold and rain that they are not dressed appropriately.  This picture truly shows the disorder going on in the brain.  The pieces are all random, not making a complete picture, so this person "sees" her grandson as a jumble.

A normal functioning brain is a fascinating thing and is not fully understood because of its complexity.  A brain affected by dementia is even more mysterious and different for each person.  The more that caregivers can try to learn about the brain dysfunctions and how they might play out in everyday life for the person living with dementia, the better they may be able to set up the environment and work with the person to maximize their everyday tasks and enjoyment in life.

Read more about how people living with dementia can stay active despite brain dysfunction and about activity products that can help.

For 24/7 support and resources, visit the Alzheimer's Association.



tracy pecora
Date: 4/25/2014
We have been getting more and more Alzheimer's and Dementia senior coming to our center, this is very helpful.
Phyllis Jefferson
Date: 4/30/2014
This is so interesting about the vision. My husband is 65 and diagnosed with dementia last year. He is at the moderate stage. I now understand why he can't see things that are "what I think" is directly in front of him. Like when he is reaching for the seatbelt, door handle on the car or even flushing the commode. I've been told there are places or people that can provide a virtual simulation of the day to day life of a person with dementia. Are you familiar with this concept? How can our support group find more about this? Phyllis
Monica, MindStart
Date: 4/30/2014
Thanks Phyllis and Tracy for your comments. You can learn more about virtual dementia simulations at www.secondwind.org/virtual-dementia-tour. You can also view a virtual dementia simulation video at abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/virtual-dementia-tour-families-understanding-alzheimers-disease-11226182. These really do help to gain some understanding into what the person might be experiencing.
Date: 9/16/2014
I work with patients everyday that has dementia , and you can actually see the fear within each day. The confusion is so clear and these pictures have help me understand the torment of their mind, with care and love dealing with each individual is different yet the love you give to them is the same love you see in their eyes after calming the storm.

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