pediatric housecalls Robert R. Jarrett M.D. M.B.A. FAAP

The Charles Bonnett Syndrome: An Under-reported Phenomenon

Oliver SacksCharles Bonnet Sydrome In The Visually Impaired

Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks brings our attention to the Charles Bonnett Syndrome — when visually impaired people experience lucid hallucinations. He describes the experiences of his patients in heartwarming detail and walks us through the biology of this under-reported phenomenon.

Visually Impaired and Charles Bonnett
Psychiatrist Oliver Stacks Explains

The relaxed demeanor of Dr. Stacks is easy to understand when he explains the unease experienced by patients who are loosing their sight when they see something that isn’t there—the hallucinations of the Charles Bonnett Syndrome give fears of “loosing one’s mind” or other conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

Most have heard about the “phantom limb syndrome” experienced by individuals who have lost a limb; but, almost no-one has heard of that happening when sight is lost, although it does.

Dr. Stacks explained how the phenomenon was first seen and described in the literature by Dr. Charles Bonnett (hence the syndrome’s name) when his father lost his sight. It now has been described as a “not rare” occurrence in people whose vision is becoming impaired not just those who are blind.

There is a “comfort,” of sorts, from knowing that there is a name for what is happening, that it’s “normally” seen and not an additional problem and that it’s not a harbinger of something worse.

In addition, just knowing about it and learning about what makes it happen—who knows, might lead to one day being able to develop artificial eyes. Stranger things have happened.

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