Overview of Balint's Syndrome

Visual disturbances are not always caused by a problem with your eyes, but can also result from trouble with the brain. Balint’s syndrome is a relatively rare cause of an unusual pattern of vision problems. It is a type of vision disturbance that occurs due to brain damage, even when the eyes and the nerves that control the eyes are normal.

If you are concerned about your own vision or that of a loved one, it's important to get medical attention. The article describes Balint's syndrome, including the symptoms, causes, and treatment.

Man lying on couch with closed eyes
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What Is Balint's Syndrome?

Balint’s syndrome is a rare neurological condition. It is often described as a visual disturbance, but people who have Balint's syndrome can see—they can't make sense of what they see and often can't interact with things they see.

This condition causes a triad of symptoms:

  • Oculomotor Apraxia: Impaired ability to intentionally move your eyes towards an object.
  • Optic Ataxia: The inability to accurately reach for something you're looking at.
  • Visual Simultagnosia: An inability to see the whole picture. With Balint's syndrome, you only see parts of the whole. For example, when shown a picture of a house, you would only see a window, a door, a wall, and so on, but not the entire house. Elements of the picture may also be missed.

If you have Balint’s syndrome, you'll need to depend on your other senses to guide you. You may, for example, need to keep a hand on the sink in order to know where it is in the bathroom. You may not be able to use utensils at the table since you can’t use your vision to aim your hand to pick up a fork or a spoon.

In addition, it may be impossible to read, since simultagnosia means you may only see one letter at a time, and you may not be able to put that letter into the context of a word or sentence.

What Causes Balint's Syndrome?

Balint's syndrome usually results from damage to both posterior regions of the parietal lobes, near the occipital lobes. The parietal lobes are the areas of your brain that let you know where you are, as well as where other objects are in relation to each other. The occipital lobes integrate what you are seeing.

When symptoms come on suddenly, they're likely due to stroke. However, other disorders such as tumors, trauma, near-drowning, eclampsia, HIV encephalitis, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, can also lead to Balint’s syndrome.

How Is Balint's Syndrome Diagnosed?

If you have a vision test, your vision can be perfect with Balint's syndrome because the condition does not affect your visual acuity (how clear things look) or cause a defect in your visual field testing,

An optometrist or ophthalmologist will likely give you a referral to a neurologist. Your neurological testing may include tests that assess how you interact with the things you see, and how you use objects.

You are also likely to have a brain imaging test, such as a brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test. This may show bilateral damage to the posterior parietal lobes.

Therapy for People With Balint's Syndrome

Occupational therapy, in some cases, can help you recover some independence. While different approaches have been suggested, no one approach is clearly the best, and it may be helpful to consider using techniques designed to assist those who are blind. Your therapist may suggest ways to use your other senses to replace damaged perception.

To cope with your condition, you may need to make some adjustments. For example, audio books can be used instead of usual reading material, and podcasts may replace television viewing. 

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Amalnath SD, Kumar S, Deepanjali S, Dutta TK. Balint syndrome. Ann Indian Acad Neurol. 2014;17(1):10-1. doi:10.4103/0972-2327.128526 

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By Peter Pressman, MD
Peter Pressman, MD, is a board-certified neurologist developing new ways to diagnose and care for people with neurocognitive disorders.