Is it a dream?  Is it real?  Are there one of them or two?  Do you see that?  Where did it go?  Who are those people?

I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must be to sort out all the messages that Mary Ann’s visual cortex is sending to her awareness of what is around her. It would be one thing if all the messages were confused.  That would be horrible to experience.  The insidious nature of Lewy Body Dementia is that there is not just one consistent pattern of processing reality.  Someone with LBD or in Mary Ann’s Case PDD [Parkinson’s Disease Dementia – a Dementia with Lewy Bodies] can be absolutely clear and lucid and sharp mentally one minute or hour or day and virtually unable to comprehend where she is or what is being said to her the next minute — no exaggeration, the next minute.

The online group of caregiving Spouses of those with Lewy Body Dementia often contains posts from someone who is constantly searching the landscape for studies on LBD and related matters.  Coincidentally, the day after the appointment with the Ophthalmologist about Mary Ann’s eye problems, there was a post containing the notes from a presentation by Swaraj Bose, MD, a neuro-ophthalmologist at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, UCI.  Here is the purpose of his talk according to the Support Group Leader, Vera James: “His main reason for speaking with us was to give us a fair idea of the eye problems and why do the eyes behave in the way they do in Parkinson’s/PSP/Atypical Parkinson’s and what the caregiver can do.”

You can imagine how pleased I was to see that timely post. What happens is that the Lewy bodies, sort of like the lesions that build up from cholesterol, build up on neurons.  With LBD and PDD, they often attach themselves to the cells in the Visual Cortex. That is one of the ways LBD and PDD are different from Alzheimer’s Dementia [AD]

The notes from the meeting included this comment: “Visual perception is defective in probable DLB. The defective visual perception plays a role in development of visual hallucinations, delusional misidentifications, visual agnosias, and visuoconstructive disability charcteristic of DLB.”

Here are part of the notes:

Common eye complaints:
#1 – Related to disturbance of down-gaze PSP.
– Difficulty in coordinating eye movements while reading even if their vision is normal, especially through their bifocal glasses.
– Difficulty in eating because they cannot look down at their food on the plate.
– Difficulty in going downstairs and stepping off curbs.

#2 – Related to lack of convergence/ fast and slow tracking- Parkinson/PSP/ Atypical PD. (Note:  Convergence means to bring the eyes together)
– Difficulty in focusing, words run into each other.
– Hard to shift down to the beginning of the next line automatically after reaching the end of the first line.
– Inability to quickly move eyes up or down.
– Inability to track moving objects or maintain eye contact.
– Double vision. One eye sees one thing, the other eye sees another and the brain brings them together. Kind of the way 3D glasses do. When you have double vision, the brain isn’t bringing the eyes together to get the one vision.

#3 – Related to vision disturbances- Parkinson/ PSP/Atypical PD.
– Difficulty in focusing/blurry vision/visual hallucinations. Visual hallucinations can be in all of these illness. Some visual hallucinations can be from to much medication, but it can also be from a lack of dopamine in the cortex where the signal is fallen and gives false images and causes these visual hallucinations also. So not all visual hallucinations are psychotic. Other things that can also cause visual hallucinations are benadryl and OTC cold meds. They can also cause spasm.
– Changes of reading glasses at a quicker intervals.
– Decreased in contrast sensitivity (difficulty in distinguishing shades of gray) and color perception.

#4 – Eyelid abnormality
– Difficulty in voluntarily opening their eyes (apraxia)
– Forceful eyelid closing (blepharospasm) .  This is treated with botox.
– Decrease in the rate of blinking (3-4/min vs. 20/min)

#5 – Dry eyes
– Burning sensation, redness, watering, itching, excessive tearing, rubbing of eyes, blurry vision.
– Double vision with one eye.  Usually results in ‘ghosting’ of images or shadowing of images.

Those notes are almost an exact list of Mary Ann’s visual problems. The eyelid issues have been pronounced for a long time.  Often she just has not been able to get them to open.  We have learned how to walk together with her eyes shut with me holding her tight at my side.  Sometimes we stumble around a bit, but we get the job done.

She has commented more than once that she is seeing two of something.  She has asked often to go to the Optometrist to get new glasses.  The burning, redness, dry eyes, excessive watering, rubbing her eyes all happen often.  She has struggled with reading for a very long time.  I can only guess that a number of the problems listed above combine to make reading almost impossible for her.

I have talked often about the hallucinations she endures. In our online group there has been a thread of posts about our Loved Ones losing the ability to discern the boundary between dreams and reality.  Sometimes Mary Ann confuses with reality what she is hearing on the television as she lies in bed at night.  I would turn the television off, but she insists on having it on when she goes to bed.

One problem, described as “down gaze” seems to fit her problem with seeing the food when eating.  One suggestion mentioned in the notes is raising the food to eye level.  Last night I got out an old lap tray and a styrofoam cooler lid to make a platform at the table on which to put Mary Ann’s plate.  It looks obnoxious, but for today’s three meals, it actually seemed to help.  I am not sure how long Mary Ann will tolerate using it.  I will look around for something more aesthetically pleasing to use regularly.  I would love to find something portable enough to use when we are out, although she will probably not allow such a public display.

I plan to ask the Parkinson’s Clinic folks at KU Med Center if they have a Neurological Ophthalmologist on their staff.  One suggestion in the notes was that such a specialist be consulted.  Most of the rest of the suggestions in the notes are things that we already have been doing.

I am glad we ended up getting the appointment with the Ophthalmologist here.  It has helped us understand better what it is we are dealing with.  Again, I am learning more than I ever wanted to know.  I am sure that M.D. degree must be in the mail by now.

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