What is Charles
Charles Bonnet Syndrome
( CBS for short ) is a term used to describe the situation when people
with sight problems start to see things which they know aren't real.
Sometimes called halluciations the things people see can take all kinds
of forms from simple patterns or straight lines to detailed pictures
of people or buildings. These can be enjoyable or sometimes upsetting.
A Swiss philosopher
named Charles Bonnet first described this condition in 1760 when he
his Grandfather who was blinded by cataracts described seeing birds
and buildings which were not there. Although the condition was described
very early it is still largely unknown by ordinary doctors and nurses.
This is partly a lack of knowledge about the syndrome and partly because
people experiencing it don't talk about their problems in case they
are thought of as mentally ill.
CBS affects people
with serious sight loss and usually only the ones who have lost their
sight later in life, it usually appears after a period of worsening
What cause CBS?
At the moment little
is known about how the brain stores the information it gets from the
eyes and how the brain uses it to create the pictures we see. There
is some research that shows that all the constant seeing prevents the
brain from creating its own pictures. When people lose their sight their
brain is not receiving as many pictures as it did, sometimes new fantasy
pictures or old pictures stored in our brains are released and experienced
as though they are seen. These experiences seem to happen when there
isn't much going on , for instance when people are sat alone in a quiet
familiar place, or when lay in bed at night.
Don't only mad
people see things?
is fairly normal for people who start seeing things to keep quiet about
their visual hallucinations in case people think they are mentally ill.
It is important to realise that failing eyesight and not mental illness
is usually the cause of CBS.
There are other
medical conditions such as Parkinsons Disease and Alzheimers, strokes
and other brain conditions that can affect that part of the brain concerned
with seeing,. Having CBS does not mean that you are more likely to develop
any of these other conditions.
between the hallucinations that people with mental health problems and
people with CBS have, is that in CBS people quickly realise that the
hallucinations although interesting are not real. On the other hand,
people with a mental illness have trouble telling the difference between
reality and fantasy they will often come up with complicated explanations
for the things they are seeing. If you think you are having CBS hallucinations
tell your GP about them You may find it useful to print this page and
take it with you.
What kind of
things do people see?
There seem to be
two different kinds of things people see. Both can be in black and white
or in colour, involve still or moving images and can seem real e.g.
cows in a field or seem unreal like pictures of dragons.
Firstly there are
hallucinations of patterns or lines they can be like brickwork, mosaic
Secondly more complicated
pictures of people or places. Often scenes such as landscapes or groups
of people, sometimes they can appear lifesize or sometimes tiny people
and tiny things. They appear out of the blue and can last between a
few minutes and a few hours. Many people begin to recognise similar
things appearing in their visions such as distorted faces or the same
tiny people.Generally the pictures are pleasant although the effects
can be scary.
Sometimes the complicated
pictures can make it difficult to get around, for example streets and
rooms may seem to change shape making it difficult to judge exactly
where you are. One gentleman explained how once as he approached the
top of the stairs he had visions of being at the top of a mountain,
he had considerable difficulty getting back down the stairs. However
a good knowledge of your surroundings can help overcome this problem.
pictures can sometimes be a little scary
Although the visions
themselves may not be of anything frightening it is disturbing to start
seeing strangers in your home or garden. People often over come this
by getting to know the figures in their visions. One man describes how
on waking up in the morning he says to the figures he sees "right
what have you got in store for me today "? this allows him to have
some control over the way he feels about seeing things.
So is there a
the moment there is know known cure or treatment for CBS. However just
knowing that this is poor vision and not mental illness can help people
come to terms with it. Generally these visions disappear after twelve
to eighteen months, but of course this is not so for everyone with this
It is worth trying
to change things when the visions occur to see if this will help them
disappear. For example if it happens in the dark try switching the light
on, or off if it happens in the light, if you are stood up try sitting
down if sat down try standing up.
things over with a counsellor or psychiatrist can help provide people
with ways of dealing with their visions. If you are having problems
with yours then talking to your GP may be a good way to find some help.
Sources of support
At the moment the
RNIB is not aware of any specialised support groups for people affected
by Charles Bonnet Syndrome..
HOWEVER IF ANY
OF YOU KNOW OF ANY SUCH GROUPS WOULD YOU KINDLY E-MAIL THE INFORMATION
TO US AT THE E-MAIL ADDRESS ON THE HOME PAGE.