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Study Reveals High Prevalence of Visual Illusions and Minor Hallucinations in Parkinson’s Disease Patients in Lithuania

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A recent study conducted in Lithuania has shed new light on the prevalence and characteristics of visual illusions and other minor hallucinations in patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD). The research, published in the journal Medicina, highlights the significant occurrence of these non-motor symptoms among PD patients, even in the early stages of the disease.

The Lithuanian University of Health Sciences’ Neringa Juceviit, Renata Balnyt, and Ovidijus Laucius led the study, which sought to fill a knowledge gap regarding the prevalence of minor hallucinations, particularly visual illusions, in Parkinson’s disease. The researchers enrolled 35 PD patients without dementia and 35 age- and gender-matched controls. They found that 45.7% of PD patients experienced at least one type of minor hallucination, compared to just 11.4% of the control group. Visual illusions were the most common, affecting 37.1% of PD patients versus 8.6% of controls.

The study found that the most frequently reported visual illusions by PD patients were complex visual illusions, kinetopsia (where stationary objects appear to move), and pelopsia (where objects appear closer than they are). Patients with PD reported these illusions significantly more frequently than those in the control group.

The findings align with previous research indicating that visual illusions and minor hallucinations are common in PD patients. However, this study is particularly notable for its comprehensive approach, assessing 20 distinct types of visual illusions.

Interestingly, the study did not find significant differences in clinical characteristics, such as cognitive function and disease duration, between PD patients with and without visual illusions. But there was a notable correlation between visual illusions and the presence of hallucinations (the false sensation that another person is nearby). PD patients who reported visual illusions were significantly more likely to also report presence hallucinations.

The pathophysiological mechanisms behind these psychotic phenomena in PD remain incompletely understood. The study suggests that neurodegenerative changes in the brain, including cortical and subcortical atrophy, might contribute to the occurrence of visual illusions and other hallucinations. These changes could disrupt the normal processing of visual information, leading to misperceptions.

The study also highlights the potential influence of cultural and methodological factors on the reported prevalence of visual illusions. Differences in the phrasing of survey questions, the number of visual illusion types assessed, and the cognitive criteria used could all impact the results. For instance, previous studies conducted in Japan and Lithuania reported varying prevalence rates for specific types of visual illusions.

The researchers call for the development of rapid and standardised questionnaires to better screen for visual illusions and other minor hallucinations in PD patients. Better screening tools could help us learn more about these effects and how they work on a neurobiological level. This could lead to better diagnostic criteria for Parkinson’s disease psychosis (PDP).

The study underscores the importance of recognising and addressing minor hallucinations in PD patients. Despite their prevalence, many patients do not report these symptoms to their healthcare providers, possibly due to stigma or a lack of awareness. Early detection and documentation of these symptoms could improve patient care and inform future research into potential treatments.

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