As if it was not bad enough to suffer from a brain injury following such as stroke, many sufferers of injury to visual areas also report experiences of hallucinations.
Interestingly, these reports should not necessarily be understood as the result of neuropathology or as unimportant symptoms, but rather as the result of functional reorganization - aka plasticity - of the neural underpinnings of visual perception.
Visual hallucinations during spontaneous and training-induced visual field recovery
D.A. Poggel et al.
Volume 45, Issue 11, 2007, Pages 2598-2607
Visual hallucinations after post-geniculate visual system lesions were shown to be associated with spontaneous recovery of visual functions. We investigated the occurrence of hallucinations during spontaneous recovery and additionally tested whether hallucinations were re-instated in a phase of vision restoration therapy (VRT). Nineteen patients with post-geniculate lesions and homonymous visual loss participated in a prospective study, and 121 patients with various lesions were included in a retrospective study using a questionnaire including verbal descriptions as well as drawings of hallucinations experienced by the patients. In both samples, visual-field size was determined before and after 6 months of VRT. Many patients in both groups experienced post-lesion hallucinations (mostly colors, objects, motion) which subsided after spontaneous recovery of visual functions (increase of visual field size, recovery of more complex visual function) was ended. Hallucinations re-emerged during training. However, the majority of patients reported simple, unformed visual hallucinations (uncolored phosphenes, spots, flashes), especially when visual field recovery was most intense. Hallucinations were mainly found in patients with large shifts of the visual field border. They occurred in blind areas, particularly in areas of residual vision where recovery was predominantly observed. Hallucinations may reflect functional recovery in partially lesioned brain areas. While the colored/formed hallucinations during spontaneous recovery may represent non-specific activation of higher visual areas, the simple, unformed training-related hallucinations may indicate recovery in the primary visual cortex during treatment. Hallucinations should not generally be discarded as pathological or unimportant symptoms, but they may be functional indicators of visual system plasticity.