Cognition and morphological brain changes in Charles Bonnet syndrome

  • Gregor Russell

    Student thesis: Unknown


    This thesis is entitled 'Cognition and morphological brain changes in Charles Bonnet syndrome'. It has been prepared by Dr Gregor Russell, and has been submitted in pursuance of the degree of Doctor of Medicine at The University of Manchester.Charles Bonnet syndrome (CBS) is defined as complex persistent visual hallucinations in the absence of mental disorder. It is associated with advanced age and poor vision. It is common, with prevalence estimates of up to 63% among older people with significant visual impairment. CBS would not be diagnosed in the presence of dementia, but its relationship to milder cognitive impairment is unclear. The few studies that have examined this are underpowered and provide contradictory results. There are 16 case reports of dementia emerging in people with a diagnosis of CBS. These cases raise the possibility of an association between impaired insight at diagnosis of CBS and the subsequent development of dementia. This thesis reports the findings of a prospective cohort study which describes changes in cognitive functioning over one year in patients with CBS and age-matched controls. Participants were recruited from low vision and glaucoma assessment clinics. A clinical assessment was carried out by an old age psychiatrist, and participants had a detailed assessment of visual functioning. This thesis also describes the findings of the first study to use voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to investigate changes in volume of grey and white matter in CBS. Participants were recruited from the same clinics as the cohort study, and underwent MRI scanning on a 1.5T scanner, to a protocol designed to produce 1mm3 voxels. Twelve participants with CBS and ten controls were followed up. Two people in the CBS group developed dementia, while none did in the control group. The CBS group showed a mean change in the score on the Addenbrooke's cognitive examination (ACE-R) of -3.7 points, compared to a change of +1.4 in the control group. This difference was not statistically significant. The CBS participants performed worse on the verbal fluency item of the ACE-R, a difference which was statistically significant. The VBM analysis was conducted on 11 CBS participants and 11 controls. The CBS group showed an increase in grey matter volume in the right cerebellar hemisphere. This difference retained significance after family-wise error correction, non-stationary correction, and ANCOVA to control for the effects of possible confounders.As far as the author is aware, these are the most methodologically robust studies to date to have investigated cognition and morphological brain changes in CBS. The findings of the cohort study were inconclusive. However, the two cases of dementia in CBS patients add weight to the suspicion that this is a clinically important outcome in the condition, and the finding of abnormalities in frontal lobe testing in participants with CBS fits with a theoretical model of visual hallucination generation. Moreover, this type of research appears to be acceptable to a frail and visually disabled population, and studies powered to investigate this issue more fully would be feasible. The VBM findings report the presence of underlying structural brain abnormalities in CBS, in a region not usually associated with visual hallucinations. Possible links with Lewy body dementia, and implications for theories of visual hallucinations, are discussed.
    Date of Award1 Aug 2015
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • The University of Manchester
    SupervisorAlistair Burns (Supervisor) & Robert Baldwin (Supervisor)


    • Alzheimer's disease
    • magnetic resonance imaging
    • voxel-based morphometry
    • Charles Bonnet syndrome
    • Lewy body dementia
    • visual hallucinations
    • cognitive impairment

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