Many dementia symptoms are specific to the individual but some are common in most. One is shuffling when walking. I was told shuffling was commonly caused by loss of balance during dementia, but I felt there was more.

Some of the shufflings can be caused by vision changes. It’s commonly understood as peripheral sight diminishes; they get tunnel vision. But most people don’t know they also lose depth perception; inability to judge distance, volume, or how fast something is moving, especially towards them.

Many of those with early dementia aren’t aware of the gradual visual changes. Imagine driving not able to judge distance properly or calculate how fast other cars are moving. Scary to contemplate.

“She keeps reaching for the fork of the person sitting in front of her on the other side of the table, why?” Because depth perception loss makes everything appear in right front of you; distance disappears.

There are two people next to each other in the room but one seems to be abnormally small. You shake the hand of the first person. But when you attempt to shake hands with the smaller person you don’t realize that he is in the distance and physical contact isn’t impossible. Sometimes a person with dementia seems to be trying to grab something invisible. It might be something on the other side of the room.

When objects lose volume, they’re seen flat. Climbing or descending stairs is a terrible challenge. Stairs look like lines on the floor and sidewalk curbs disappear seemingly level with the street. Commonly the person balks or refuses to use stairs.

A dark rug is seen as a hole in the floor you could fall into. In one facility the hallway had a dark runner rug and the residents would walk on the outside of it. Intricate patterns on the floor seem to move creating dizziness and loss of balance.

Unable to ascertain distance, they walk in shuffling movements barely lifting their feet off the floor afraid to stumble or fall. Some experience a loss of where their body is located in space or lose touch with their body. The latter is the reason why many can’t locate pain.

Walking on uneven surfaces causes stumbling and they become overly cautious and fearful with each step.

Try this exercise:

Roll up a magazine and place it to your eye. Position it snuggly so you can only see through it. Close the other eye. Now get up and walk around looking through the tube. Now find a chair looking through it and sit down. How far away did that chair seat seem? Now while in the chair touch your foot still looking through the tube. How far away is your foot? You have just experienced tunnel vision and depth perception loss.

Imagine trying to walk around every day seeing only what’s at the end of the tube. This is why it’s important to communicate with them in their line of vision and when moving them always have a firm hold. I hold their hand placing my forearm against theirs pressing it against my waist resting on the top of my hip. If you just hold their hand you won’t stop a sudden fall.

Be kind and patient with them. They aren’t giving you a hard time; they are having a hard time: every single day.


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