The visual system is one of the most valuable and developed sensory systems for human beings. Thanks to it, we are able to detect the presence of the various elements that are part of our environment as well as to identify their shape, their proportions and their position in space and in relation to us.
However, sometimes this system can be damaged for some reason, or the areas of the brain responsible for managing it or interpreting the resulting data can. One of the medical problems or syndromes that can result from brain damage is Bálint syndrome.
Balint syndrome: what is it?
The so-called Bálint syndrome is a medical condition caused by the presence of brain damage and characterized by the presence of various alterations related to the control of the visual system which hinder and even prevent the adaptive use of this system, highlighting optic ataxia, oculomotor apraxia, perception problems and the difficulties which arise therefrom , like visual agnosia. It can seriously affect the daily life of the person, who loses a large part of his functionality.
Specifically, this syndrome is characterized by those who suffer from it exhibiting optic ataxia, that is, an inability to properly coordinate visual information and hand movements. The subject is unable to perform tasks that require such coordination, Although their visual perception and motor system are functioning properly separately.
Oculomotor apraxia also appears, which in this case refers to the inability to change the focus of visual attention due to the absence or decreased voluntary control of eye activity. The gaze remains fixed on a point and it is difficult if not impossible to change it regardless of whether the stimulation is presented at another point in the visual field, or whether it presents erratic movements.
Another of the main symptoms of Bálint syndrome is simultanagnosia, in which the subject is unable to observe more than one object at a time without the first disappearing from the perceptual field. The subject has serious difficulty capturing complex visual stimuli, which he may not understand. In addition to this, it is common for there to be a high degree of disorientation in space.
Finally, it is also common for disorders such as visual agnosia to appear, in which the person suffering from this syndrome is unable to understand or identify what they are seeing and which can lead to phenomena such as prosopagnosia or lack of facial recognition.
The causes of this syndrome
Bálint syndrome is mainly caused by the presence of bilateral brain damage in which both parietal lobes are affected, especially in areas in contact with the occipital. Between these areas is the angular gyrus, which in turn can cause cognitive impairment, disorientation, and language-image association problems.
The causes of these injuries can be multiple, from the presence of strokes to traumatic brain injuries affecting these areas. In addition to this, some cases can be found caused by neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementias. It also occasionally appears in complications of HIV infection, as well as in prion disease.
Functional alterations in patients
People with Bálint syndrome have serious problems continuing their daily lives normally. They have difficulty coordinating vision and motor skills and they may not perceive their surroundings correctly. Aspects like dressing or eating are very complicated in some cases, as well as any activity that requires fine motor skills and vision. Literacy is difficult, if not impossible, as is driving or handling delicate machines. Communication problems can sometimes arise when there is agnosia or difficulty associating concepts with their corresponding images.
In addition, as it usually appears abruptly, it is a major disturbance that it can generate serious psychological effectsAnd it’s not uncommon to experience anxiety, distress, and in some cases even depression.
Bálint syndrome is the result of a serious brain injury, therefore treatment is dedicated to improving and finding lost functions rehabilitation. In most cases, an occupational therapy-centered approach is used (either by traditional means or through the use of new technologies) which allows to the extent that it is visible to reduce the patient’s difficulties and improve his skills, as well as psychological counseling. and treatment where required.
It is possible to achieve a certain level of recovery although this will depend on the type of injury the syndrome has caused, the condition of damaged or isolated neurons and the use of strategies to recover or compensate or functions typical of the injured areas.
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- Feinberg, TD and Farah, MJ (1997). Behavioral neurology and neuropsychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Rodriguez, IP; Moreno, R. and Flórez, C. (2000). Oculomotor Disorders in Balint Syndrome: Computer Assisted Occupational Therapy. Motricity Magazine, 6; 29-45. Complutense University of Madrid.