Posterior cortical atrophy (Benson's syndrome) is a rare condition that is considered a variation of Alzheimer's disease. It is known as a visual variant, meaning it primarily affects an individual's vision, and it may impact cognitive function as it progresses as well. Approximately five percent of Alzheimer's disease patients have posterior cortical atrophy. In addition to Alzheimer's disease, posterior cortical atrophy may occur with Lewy body dementia and some other progressive neurological conditions. Typically, the first symptoms begin in patients in their fifties and sixties. Since the initial symptoms are subtle, proper diagnosis is often delayed. To diagnose posterior cortical atrophy, doctors begin with a physical examination, mental status exam, and a neurological exam. Patients may also have an ophthalmic exam, blood tests, and MRI, PET, or SPECT scans. Although posterior cortical atrophy cannot be cured, treatments are available to slow the progression of the disease and improve quality of life. Medications, physical and occupational therapy, support groups, and home modifications are all recommended to help patients with this condition.
Some of the most common symptoms seen in patients with posterior cortical atrophy are discussed below. Many of these symptoms are often attributed to less serious conditions, so it is important that patients who notice any of these signs receive a prompt medical evaluation.
Blurred vision generally begins in the early stages of posterior cortical atrophy, and it is often the first symptom patients notice. As the condition progresses, vision may become increasingly blurry for prolonged periods. Patients might have trouble reading street signs, newspaper articles, or messages on the computer, and they may have particular trouble reading fine print. Blurry vision may cause patients to struggle to identify objects and faces, both in real life and in photographs. For patients with posterior cortical atrophy, receiving stronger glasses or contacts does not alleviate the blurred vision; this is because it is not the eyes that are damaged. Rather, the blurred vision is caused by the changes posterior cortical atrophy creates in the brain itself. To help make life with blurry vision easier, patients may need to change the lighting in their homes to make sure it is bright enough, and particular attention should be paid to reducing glare. Placing stickers or signs on glass windows and doors can allow patients to see these more clearly.