June 7, 2014

Why Visual Aids Benefit Dementia Patients

Dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) patients have difficulty in perceiving and remembering feature bindings. Objects are generally composed of several different features, including:

  • colour
  • shape

Often the objects in a given scene share many visual features. For example, many objects on a desk like a computer mouse, mobile phone, and pen, could be coloured black or white and shaped as a rectangle or oval.

Feature binding is a process by which our brain combines all of the specific features of an object and gives us a complete picture of it.

Binding is necessary when trying to find an object with specific features. However, this attentional process is impaired in AD patients. Even when they successfully find such items they cannot remember them well, and so it would benefit AD patients if the objects in their surroundings were distinguishable by a single, prominent feature, such as colour.

If the objects all appeared in different colours, the attentional cost of finding them in a cluttered scene would be significantly reduced. Think of how hard it is to find Waldo! However, if he was red and everything else was a different colour, he’d be much easier to find.  Where's Wally Since visual search is likely to be facilitated by visual short term memory (short-term memory limited to information in the visual domain), patients with AD would be better able to maintain their search target in memory, and therefore find the target sooner. Instead of having to find a “black-oval” object such as the computer mouse, they just have to find a “black” object.

This is supported by recent research which has shown that reducing visual clutter helps to improve perception.  

How can this knowledge be used to help AD patients?

In the patients’ homes, visual aids can provide a valuable assistance in their day to day living. Simple signs may be positioned around the home, reminding them of where rooms are located for example.

A recent study has shown that cognitive performance can be aided by an improved visual environment. In this study which monitored the performance of those suffering AD versus that of healthy individuals in bingo. They found that making the bingo cards larger and decreasing the visual complexity (‘visual clutter’) had a positive effect on the visual memory of the AD patients leading to improved performance in bingo. It is clear from this study that having an improved visual environment aids AD patients.

Visual aids are also commonly used in presentations as a method of increasing retention of information and increasing engagement with the information presented. This idea is the same as using signage or visual aids in the home of an AD sufferer to improve their visual memory, so as to allow them to complete the task at hand. This could be it finding the correct medication or in more severe cases finding the bathroom for example. Visual aids can also be used to stimulate the memory of patients which can help to reduce the cognitive decline which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Visual aids also help to reduce stress and frustration, which can be associated with AD patients losing their orientation or not being able to perform a task due to forgetting what specifically they were trying to accomplish. By utilising visual aids, this psychological distress can be reduced giving the patients a greater sense of control.

The signage and visual aids we provide here at Recogneyes are developed with the help of expert consultants and can help those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease to improve their communication with their carers’. Our products also aim at giving patients a greater degree of independence in daily living by maintaining or improving understanding of their environment and orientation as well. 

Let us know if this article has helped!

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