simple explanations of interesting brain conditions

Blind to Their Blindness: Anton-Babinski Syndrome

Anton-Babinski syndrome might be the most fantastic neurological condition that I have ever heard of. This rare disease usually follows a stroke or head injury which leaves sufferers with either a severe or total loss of vision. That isn’t the weird part though. As strange as it sounds, these patients also develop total denial of their affliction to the point that they will confabulate lies to support their claims of perfect vision.

One study on the subject [1] reports a 96-year-old man who had been admitted to the hospital suffering a headache and sudden loss of vision. An eye examination confirmed severe damage to the man’s sight, and yet he remained completely convinced that he could see just fine! The man attempted descriptions of the landscape outside his hospital window, and even made statements about the colour of his doctor’s tie. The kicker? He sat in a windowless room while his doctor wore no tie at all.

1

The same study mentions a 56-year-old woman with a history of thyroid problems and multiple sclerosis who was admitted to the emergency room in a seriously confused state. The woman was suffering from psychomotor agitation; a series of unintentional body movements which usually result from mental tension and anxiety. The woman’s case was bad enough to require sedation and ventilator support. However, on awakening it became clear that the woman had lost the ability to identify objects- like the previous subject she began making unsupported claims about her environment, seemingly completely unaware of her blindness. She even took a newspaper and pretended to read it! Spooky stuff.

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So why does Anton-Babinski syndrome occur? No one knows for sure. The condition affects a portion of patients suffering from cortical blindness; meaning their eyes are fine but the part of their brain which processes vision (the occipital cortex) is damaged.  The chances of recovery are unclear; one Japanese study states that their elderly patient gradually became aware of his blindness over a week-long period of treatment [2], other sources claim the condition may simply fade over time. However there really isn’t much literature available on the condition, because thank goodness it’s pretty rare. Can you imagine how odd it would be encounter one of these patients?

References

All images produced by the author unless otherwise specified.

  1. Chen, J. Chang, H. Hsu, Y. Chen, D. (2015) Psychogeriatrics, Vol. 15 Issue 1, p58-1. Doi: 1111/psyg.12064
  2. Carvajal, J. Cardenas, A. Pazmino, G. Herrera, P. (2012) Visual Anosognosia (Anton-Babinski Syndrome): Report of Two Cases Associated with Ischemic Cerebrovascular Disease. Journal of Behavioural and Brain Science. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/jbbs.2012.23045
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