Eyes are the main portal that ushers the wide world into our minds. Healthy eyes help us see the people and things that fill our lives with love, beauty, hurdles, and despair. But to perceive those things accurately, the brain must be a reliable interpreter. Dementia makes that impossible.
My mother has had eye problems for years. The first time she showed signs of faulty vision we were walking in the back yard. Leaves had fallen from a big elm at the end of the lawn. She pointed at them and asked, “What are those pink things?” Her comment alarmed me because in those days she could still function at a pretty high level. What she noticed on the ground was not pink — and she’d lived in Pennsylvania her whole life, raking countless piles of autumn leaves. She was showing the first signs of agnosia, a condition of not being able to name or recognize a common object. The condition of a caregiver witnessing this for the first time is called panic!
Seven years have since passed and we don’t get upset when Mom can’t explain what she sees. In addition to the agnosia, she now gets a chronic infection in her eyes from keeping them closed too much. When she is not truly engaged in an activity, she shifts into neutral and lets her lids drop. Closing the eyes prevents tears from cleaning them, which can result in dacryostenosis.
Apart from the infection, which we treat with a prescription ointment, Mom often comes up with wild notions of what she’s looking at. After hearing her talk a lot about “the children over there”, my sister finally figured out that Mom was looking at electrical outlets — two holes that looked like eyes resting over one hole for a nose or mouth. These are “the children” that visit Mom’s room. We thought she was seeing ghosts! A few days ago, Mom looked at the photo of the fall foliage posted above. She couldn’t find any trees or leaves there. For her it was a picture of “a rich man with lots of money.”
So hang on. If you can get yourself past the panic stage, some of these things are truly hilarious!