Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Are you a fan of Coronation Street? If so, you’ll have seen their latest storyline, covering a health issue that most of us may be unfamiliar with but currently affects more than 100,000 people in the UK: Charles Bonnet Syndrome.

But what is this condition, who is affected, and how is it treated?

The facts

Charles Bonnet Syndrome is a sight condition that causes hallucinations.

It affects sufferers of macular degeneration – a gradual loss of sight – and it’s more common than you might think.

It’s estimated that up to half of all patients with macular degeneration will experience Charles Bonnet Syndrome at some point. 

It can affect people of any age, but generally, it tends to occur with patients later in life, which we see in our care home patients from time to time.

Macular degeneration causes patches or ‘black spots’ in the vision, meaning the brain doesn’t receive as much information as it used to. 

With Charles Bonnet Syndrome, the brain works to fill in the gaps, creating patterns or hallucinations. 

Patients can report anything from seeing children running across their bedrooms to spiders on the walls, colourful patterns or rooms changing shape.

What is it like?

Although not often scary in nature, hallucinations can be unsettling to experience – you’d undoubtedly get a fright from suddenly seeing a stranger or an animal appear in your home or seeing the room shift in shape or size. 

They can also cause practical problems, with patients who see more complex hallucinations struggling with mobility or being unable to judge where they are or which direction they can walk in, depending on how distorted the vision becomes.

Is it a sign of dementia?

In a nutshell, no. Many patients mistake Charles Bonnet Syndrome-related hallucinations for dementia or even a mental health issue, but Charles Bonnet Syndrome is an ocular condition. 

Understandably, hallucinations can cause patients to worry that they have dementia or another condition, but generally if patients experience hallucinations without any signs of dementia or mental illness, they will probably have Charles Bonnet Syndrome.

How can it be treated?

Currently, there isn’t a cure for Charles Bonnet Syndrome, although hallucinations often improve over time, becoming shorter or less frequent.

However, there are things that patients and carers can do to help. 

Simply reassuring the patient that hallucinations are signs of sight loss, not dementia or mental health issues, can be beneficial for patients, and reminds them that what they’re seeing isn’t real. 

Similarly, making sure that patients are familiar with their surroundings can also help them feel reassured when hallucinations make things look different.

If you are concerned about Charles Bonnet Syndrome or think you or someone else may be suffering from it, Visioncall’s optometrists are trained to help eye health conditions affecting the older population, including Charles Bonnet Syndrome and macular degeneration, and can provide advice and guidance.

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