Environmental Issues That May Impact Alzheimer’s

Scientists have long thought that there was one part of the brain, the medial temporal lobe, that was used only for memory. But new research suggests that the medial temporal lobe could also control how we perceive objects and the world around us. The study, which was led by researchers from Georgia Tech and the University of Toronto, in partnership with the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, shows that memory impairments may be related to difficulties distinguishing between objects that look similar. Researchers gave subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) a test to determine their ability to differentiate between images such as an apple and a butterfly that were displayed side by side. Some of the tests were more challenging than others and tested subjects’ abilities to see the difference between two images that were the same but rotated or tilted on an axis.

The results of the study demonstrated that individuals with memory problems have greater difficulty distinguishing objects visually in their mind than those without memory problems. This finding may partly explain why an individual with later stage dementia may have a hard time recognizing a loved one’s face. While memory plays a role, visual perceptions may be distorted and contribute further to such problems.

This research suggests that caregivers should pay special attention to the living environment of a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and take care to reduce “visual clutter.” Carpets or furniture with busy patterns may cause more frequent falls or injuries. Table settings should be solid, distinctive colors to help individuals see their utensils and food. Everyday activities such as using a telephone may become difficult because the buttons on the phone all look the same. If different size and color buttons are used instead, dialing a telephone might become an easier task. Some changes require simple manipulation of the environment while others may require purchasing items from a senior care resource store.