Woman with 20/20 vision can't make sense of what she sees
A Chicago woman has 20/20 vision, but she can't make sense of what she sees.
She is one of the patients who suffer from a rare and baffling neurological disorder called Balint's syndrome, which badly impairs a patient's ability to make sense of what he or she sees, according to a Loyola University Medical Center paper.
The article describes, in novelistic detail, the difficult adjustments two patients have had to make in their lives.
The paper was written by Jose Biller, MD, Murray Flaster, MD, and first author Jason Cuomo. Biller and Flaster are neurologists and Cuomo is a fourth-year medical student at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
Balint's syndrome is named after Austro-Hungarian neurologist Rezso Balint, who first described it. The condition is caused by one or more strokes in certain regions of the brain.
It causes three deficits: Difficulty initiating voluntary eye movements (such as following a physician's finger); inaccurate arm pointing (a patient can see an object, but is unable to pick it up); and constriction of the visual field (ask a patient to look at a parking lot, and all she sees is a lamp post or a car.)
The 68-year-old Chicago woman, dubbed A.S. in the study, thought her vision was failing when she woke up from a nap and fumbled to find her bedroom door.
When she woke from her nap, she couldn't find where doors or cabinets were. She couldn't name or distinguish familiar household objects. She couldn't read a book or the numbers on her telephone. She couldn't see where the bedroom wall ended and the door began.
Yet when she saw an ophthalmologist, her vision with glasses was 20/20.
The second patient, named JD, was a robust, hard-working owner of a trucking business. While driving to his son's house for Thanksgiving, he began to swerve. And at Thanksgiving dinner, he held the spoon upside down. He then experienced left-sided weakness and facial drooping, before losing consciousness. Doctors believe he had suffered a massive stroke, followed by a series of mini strokes.
AD has made many adjustments. For example, while getting ready in the morning, she must touch the sink at all times to remain oriented. While showering, she has to keep her hand on the shower bar. Before brushing her teeth, she puts the toothpaste directly in her mouth, then moves the toothbrush by trial and error to meet it. She has stopped driving. And because she can no longer read, she listens to audio books.
JD has suffered depression, a first for him. "He never once cried before," his wife said, "but now he cries often."
AD said she would not wish Balint's syndrome on anyone, "because not only is this a life-change, it's a mind change."
AD hopes her story will motivate physicians to seek better treatments and therapies.
The article has been published in the latest issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.