Widow helps study into rare condition

Oxford Mail: Rosemary Stone, 86, suffers from hallucinations brought on by her sight loss Buy this photo Rosemary Stone, 86, suffers from hallucinations brought on by her sight loss

THE first time Rosemary Stone hallucinated she was at a concert at St Helen’s Church in Abingdon.

The partially-sighted 86-year-old was watching the orchestra when she suddenly saw little people in old-fashioned dress walking in between the musicians.

Another time she was looking at her garden and saw bushes and molehills that weren’t really there.

Now she has taken part in a national study which has found that her visions, caused by her sight loss, are not as rare as previously thought.

Mrs Stone, who has age-related macular degeneration, said: “I looked out of my window into the garden and saw bushes that weren’t really there and lots of molehills.

“Another time I was at a concert and saw lots of little people in old fashioned clothes amongst the orchestra. They were moving around in groups.”

The bizarre condition is called Charles Bonnet Syndrome.

Hallucinations are created by the brain because of a lack of visual stimulus in people losing their eyesight.

Mrs Stone, a widow who lives with her son Rod in Marcham, said she doesn’t mind her little friends.

But for other people, the visions can be distressing and sufferers can worry they have developed some kind of mental illness like schizophrenia.

Research published yesterday in the British Journal of Ophthalmology shows the syndrome affects people for longer periods of time and has more serious consequences than previously thought.

The study, conducted by King’s College London and the Macular Society, documented the experiences of 492 people who had experienced hallucinations as a result of sight loss, the largest sample ever collected, including Mrs Stone.

The study found 80 per cent of respondents had been experiencing hallucinations for five years or more and 32 per cent found the experience predominantly unpleasant, distressing and negative.

Mrs Stone, a grandmother of three, said: “When they happen now I just hope they go away quickly so that I can get on with whatever I was doing.

“It doesn’t worry me, but it does worry some people who think they have got schizophrenia.”

The Macular Society is trying to raise awareness of Charles Bonnet Syndrome so people with sight loss know what to expect and why it is happening.

Dominic Ffytche, of King’s College London, who led the research, said: “Although there are, as yet, no specific treatments, the survey highlights the importance of raising awareness to reduce the distress it causes, particularly before symptoms start.”

For information, advice or support concerning Charles Bonnet Syndrome or macular degeneration, contact the Macular Society helpline on 0300 3030 111 or email help@macularsociety.org

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