‘Distress’ when looking in the mirror could signal dementia

Dementia is the term for a group of symptoms linked to the ongoing deterioration of the brain. More common among older people, it can cause memory loss, behavioural changes and even problems with movement. It could also cause a problem for people when looking in the mirror.

According to the NHS, mirror reflections can be “troubling” for those living with dementia.

The health service lists removing or covering mirrors as one way to make a home more dementia-friendly.

“Check mirrors and cover or remove them if they’re likely to cause confusion in the person with dementia,” it says.

“They may be distressed if they don’t recognise themselves.

“Similarly, it can help to close the curtains in the evening so they can’t see their reflection in the window glass.”

This was backed by US-based caregiving advice site Daily Caring. It explains: “Did you know that mirrors can be very disturbing for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia?

“For some, seeing their reflection in a mirror can cause anxiety, anger, or even hysterical terror.

“If your older adult starts acting irrationally without any clear triggers, look around the room for mirrors or reflective surfaces.

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“Differences in lighting could also accidentally create a mirror effect.

“For example, in the evening and night an uncovered window looks like a mirror because the inside of the house is bright and the outside is dark.”

For some people this is because they believe their reflection is an “intruder”.

“Experts think that people with dementia fear mirrors because they don’t understand that they’re seeing a reflected image of themselves,” Daily Caring adds.

“They might be afraid because ‘that stranger’ is always present for these personal activities.”

The Alzheimer’s Society also advises removing mirrors along with paintings to help a person with dementia.

It adds: “As dementia progresses, paintings, artwork and mirrors may also start to be confusing, and you may need to remove these.”

Other signs of dementia include:

  • Memory loss, such as remembering past events much more easily than recent ones
  • Problems thinking or reasoning, or finding it hard to follow conversations or TV programmes
  • Feeling anxious, depressed or angry about memory loss, or feeling confused, even when in a familiar environment.

If you or someone you know is displaying signs of dementia you should arrange to speak with a GP.

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