Occipital lobe damage can cause a person many different vision problems after brain injury.
In today’s article, we’re covering all the functions of the occipital lobe and the symptoms of occipital lobe damage.
Let’s get started!
Understanding Occipital Lobe Damage
The occipital lobe, located in the back of the brain, is primarily responsible for visual functions.
These functions include:
- Mapping the visual world
- Determining color
- Identifying familiar faces and objects
- Transmitting visual information to the temporal lobe
The temporal lobe and occipital lobe interact closely together, which is why so many symptoms of occipital lobe damage overlap with temporal lobe damage.
Symptoms of Occipital Lobe Damage
The symptoms of occipital lobe damage mainly involve vision and perception problems.
The most common symptom of occipital lobe damage is blindness and visual distortions. But there are several other symptoms a person can experience as well.
This is also known as visual field loss. It happens when only part of your visual field is lost.
Partial blindness can manifest in several different ways, including:
- Hemianopsia – Half of your visual field, either horizontally or vertically, is gone.
- Quadrantanopsia – A quarter of your visual field is gone.
- Peripheral vision loss – The outer edge of your visual field is lost.
- Central vision loss – The middle of your visual field is lost, but the peripheral vision is fine.
You can also develop something called homonymous hemianopsia. This is where the same part of the vision field is lost in both eyes. For example, the left half of your vision would be gone on both your right and left eyes.
Hemianopsia will sometimes resolve on its own as the brain begins to heal. However, sometimes the damage might be permanent.
Treating visual field loss is mainly going to involve learning scanning strategies to use your remaining eye sight more efficiently.
Word Blindness (Alexia)
Occipital lobe damage also leads to an inability to recognize written words.
It occurs when visual information from the occipital lobe is unable to pass to the areas of the brain that process language.
It’s similar to receptive aphasia, except it doesn’t affect the ability to understand words. Instead, looking at writing would just look like strange lines and symbols.
There are many different ways to compensate for alexia.
People with word blindness can also use strategies that many blind patients use to read, such as text-to-speech programs or braille.
A speech therapist is once again the best person to consult for treating language difficulties.
Color agnosia is similar to normal color blindness. Except whereas color blindness affects color perception, color agnosia affects color knowledge.
With color agnosia, the mechanisms in the eye that enable a person to see color remains intact, they just can’t tell you what color they are looking at.
This means that a person with color agnosia would be able to pass a normal color blindness test, but they wouldn’t be able to tell you what color a banana is, for example.
A speech therapist can help a person develop ways to remember what color certain objects are, however it won’t recover the ability to recognize color completely.
Simultanagnosia (Balint’s syndrome)
This symptom of occipital lobe makes it almost impossible to perceive more than one object at a time.
For example, they can only see the person they are looking at in a group, they can’t see anyone else.
They also wouldn’t be able to see their fork if they were looking at their plate, etc.
Again, treatment for this disorder will mainly involve using strategies similar to what blind people use to navigate.
You’ll need to engage your other senses in order to find your way around. For example, you can use your hand to find where your fork is.
You can also learn visual scanning techniques to help you see as much as possible.
An occupational therapist or a vision rehabilitation therapist can teach you how to utilize these tactics.
Occipital Lobe Injuries
Because of its location in back of the brain, the occipital lobe is the least likely lobe to become damaged.
However, occipital lobe injuries are still possible, and when they do happen, they can render a person effectively blind.
To deal with occipital lobe damage, your best course is to start occupational therapy, which can help you learn effective compensatory tactics.
In addition, some of the treatment for traumatic brain injury eye problems might help you recover some of your vision.
Keep in mind that the brain is remarkably adaptive and can actually rewire nerve cells to allow undamaged brain regions to take over functions from damaged ones!
Which means even if you have occipital lobe damage, you might still regain your sight after brain injury.