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The Effects of Parkinson’s Disease on Vision

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition. It was named after James Parkinson, the London doctor who first reported the symptoms in 1817 calling it the “shaking palsy”. Parkinson’s is mostly characterized by problems with body movements referred to as motor symptoms. The most identifiable motor symptom is a tremor. Other difficulties that are not related to movement can also occur such as pain, sleep disturbance, sensory problems and depression. These are known as non-motor symptoms. According to the Global Declaration for Parkinson’s Disease, 6.3 million people have Parkinson’s worldwide affecting all races and cultures. The age of onset is usually over 60 however, it is estimated one in ten people are diagnosed before the age of 50, slightly more men than women. Parkinson’s is life-altering however; it is not life-threatening.

Parkinson’s disease is the result of an abnormal destruction of brains cells that produce dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that is critical in driving the way the brain controls our movements. If there is not enough dopamine a person cannot control movements well and many times cannot move at all. Dopamine also helps control our brains ability to function with respect to memory, attention to detail and problem-solving tasks.

There are four main motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease: tremors, stiffness of the limbs and trunk, slowness of movement, and impaired balance. These symptoms start very gradually and grow worse with time. People with the disease eventually have trouble with walking, talking and completing simple tasks. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease and as previously mentioned, it is not fatal, but complications such as choking, pneumonia or falls may lead to death.

Sensory problems may occur and can include visual loss, loss of smell, hearing problems, and restless legs syndrome (RLS). Visual signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may include defects in visual acuity, side vision, color vision, eye movements, pupil function, blink reflex, and more complex visual tasks that involve the ability to judge distance or the shape of an object. Double vision may also occur. The ability to process something visually slows especially for rapidly changing visual situations like watching children play. Facial recognition can become a problem and many Parkinson’s patients also experience visual hallucinations.

By identifying and correcting visual problems as much as possible with prescription lenses and for example, cataract surgery, a Parkinson’s patient may significantly improve their quality of life. Eliminating or reducing visual issues have proven to affect overall motor functions in a positive way. Care for the Parkinson’s patient should include a comprehensive eye and vision health exam on a yearly basis. Co-existing eye diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration must be monitored and treated when possible to preserve vision and hopefully play a role in improving motor function.

Please contact one of our offices if you have questions concerning your vision and eye health. We can be reached in Stillwater at 405-372-1715. We also invite you to visit our website at and like us on Facebook at Cockrell Eye Care Center!