Objectives: More than 50% of human cerebral activity is related to vision. Visual impairments are therefore common after acquired brain injury, although they are often overlooked. In order to evaluate the prevalence of visual deficits in our Out-patient Brain Injury Program, a structured screening questionnaire, the Visual Interview, was administered.
Methods: A total of 170 patients with acquired brain injury, mean age 47 years, who were enrolled in the programme during 2010–12, underwent the Visual Interview. The interview consists of 18 questions concerning visual impairment and was performed on admission. The different types of visual impairment were compared with regard to sex and diagnosis.
Results: Fifty-four percent of the patients reported visual changes, mainly reading difficulties, photosensitivity, blurred vision and disorders of the visual field. Sixteen patients who did not experience visual changes also reported visual symptoms in 4–9 questions. Only slight differences were noted in the occurrence of visual symptoms when correlated with sex or diagnosis.
Conclusion: Visual impairments are common after acquired brain injury, but some patients do not define their problems as vision-related. A structured questionnaire, covering the most common visual symptoms, is helpful for the rehabilitation team to facilitate assessment of visual changes.
The visual system is widely distributed in the brain. It is integrated in more than 50% of human cerebral activity and is fundamental for interpretation of, and interaction with, the environment (1, 2).
A pyramidal hierarchical model of visual perceptual function was presented by Warren in 1993 (3). In this model, visual cognition forms the top level, followed by, in descending order: visual memory, pattern recognition, scanning, attention and a base level holding acuity, visual fields, and ocular motor control. The model illustrates how higher visual skills evolve from integration and interaction with lower skills and how visual cognition depends on well-functioning lower levels of visual perception.
Base level disturbances, such as visual field defects (VFDs), visual acuity changes, diplopia, strabismus, photophobia and different types of binocular disorders, are common after acquired brain injury (ABI) (4, 5), and lead to chronic headache, fatigue, dizziness, reading problems, and difficulties navigating the environment (6, 7). Although a complete VFD or manifest diplopia seldom escapes notice, disturbances of ocular motor abilities and photophobia are likely to be overlooked. Examinations of convergence and accommodation are not customary in standard ophthalmological assessments. Ordinary short examinations are unable to reveal declining attention ability and fatigue. Thus, the true problems may remain hidden.
Several reports of prevalence and quality of visual deficits after ABI document visual dysfunctions in approximately 50–75% of patients (8–13). The occurrence of different visual symptoms differs between the studies, including reading disturbances, VFD, diplopia, ocular motor dysfunction and photophobia. Nevertheless, visual symptoms are often overlooked in neurorehabilitation. The observations of Sand et al. (14) are noteworthy, i.e. that 1 of 4 stroke patients with VFD, 6 months after onset of stroke, considered that their visual problems reduced quality of life and increased their disability.
Visual disturbances after ABI are common and lead to reduced quality of life. An important question is why they are so often overlooked in neurorehabilitation? A possible explanation is the difficulty for different professionals to co-operate. Vision disturbances are complex and many different professionals operate in the field. An ability to co-operate is needed for a high-quality assessment. Another explanation could be the patients’ difficulty describing their shortcomings. They experience decreased reading speed, fatigue and dizziness, but do not recognize these problems as expressions of visual deficits. A structured questionnaire at admission would help the clinician to obtain informative answers.
In 1990, Kerkhoff et al (15). compiled an “Interview Questionnaire” in order to capture visual disorders after ABI. This interview was used by Wilhelmsen 2003 (12). Jacobsson & Hamelius translated it from Norwegian to Swedish in 2010 (16). During the last 5 years we have used this questionnaire, slightly modified, termed the Vision Interview (TVI), as an aid to discover visual deficits in our Out-patient Brain Injury Program.
The aim of the present study was to examine and analyse the occurrence of self-reported visual changes in a Swedish out-patient group with medium to severe ABI, based on TVI.