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Cognitive changes related to dementia can cause a person with dementia to experience the world differently. Dementia affects people’s sensory perceptions, leading to people living with dementia seeing, hearing and feeling things differently.

Changes in sensory perception, such as hearing, vision and spatial judgement can cause people living with dementia to feel disoriented and afraid. If you know or care for someone living with dementia, it’s important to understand how these changes can impact the way they experience the world so you can support them in the best way possible.

Different sensory experiences

Dementia affects people’s senses in a few different ways.

Visuo-perception and spatial awareness can be affected in many ways. Sometimes leading to dark colours appearing as holes or all white bathroom fixtures being difficult to distinguish between.

Loud sounds and noisy environments can lead to information overload. In noisy environments it becomes difficult to think and concentrate on the conversation being had.

How different sensory perceptions affect people living with dementia

The ways dementia affects sensory perception can cause people to become disorientated, distressed and afraid, especially when it occurs in public or in an unfamiliar situation.

People living with dementia may become lost when not in a familiar place and the fear of this can cause people to be hesitant to leave their home, increasing their social isolation.

Virtually experiencing sensory perceptions of people living with dementia

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It is very helpful for carers to have as much understanding as possible of how people living with dementia experience the world. Understanding can help them provide better support and to avoid situations that may cause the person living with dementia distress.

Dementia Australia has created a virtual reality experience so carers can experience the world through the eyes of people living with dementia.

Sometimes a person living with dementia can display changed behaviours due to changes in their perceptions as a result of their dementia.

It is important to try to understand why a person is behaving in a particular way. If family members and carers can determine what may be triggering the behaviour, it may be easier to figure out ways to prevent the behaviour happening again.

Help Sheet discusses some ways to think about any changes in behaviours

Click to access helpsheet