Can vision loss cause you to hear phantom noises?

My wife has macular degeneration which has left her very nearly blind and she's getting worse. She also had cataracts and glaucoma, but those were successfully treated. Diabetes isn't helping anything either. But lately she's been hearing music playing when there isn't any music. She hears me talking when I'm not saying a word. She hears lots of phantom sounds. Is this a byproduct of vision loss? Or is it more likely the onset of dementia? She's 68 years old. She's confused and I'm scared. If anyone has insights into this, please reply, and thanks.

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Re: Can vision loss cause you to hear phantom noises?

Hello Cardynal:

This is Maureen Duffy, who writes about eye and vision research for VisionAware. I read your query with great interest, and have some possible insights to share with you. Please understand that I am not an audiologist and I note that you have also received a response from the Helen Keller national Center, which recommends an interdisciplinary team approach. This is excellent advice.

My own interest in this topic comes from my investigation of a phenomenon called "Charles Bonnet Syndrome," or CBS, which is a condition that affects older adults with later-life vision loss. It causes complex visual "hallucinations" in seemingly psychologically intact people. I wrote about it on the VisionAware site here:

This is an excerpt:
"Many vision professionals believe that a significant number of adults with vision loss from a variety of eye conditions, including macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, andglaucoma, experience Charles Bonnet ("Bo-NAY") Syndrome, a condition that causes vivid, complex, recurring visual hallucinations, usually (but not only) in older adults with later-life vision loss. By some estimates, as many as 20-30% of adults with vision loss are affected by CBS, although actual numbers are difficult to determine, since few people who experience these symptoms are likely to discuss them with family members, friends, or physicians."

My interest in this kept me searching the literature for more information, and, as I did so, I began to uncover some fledgling research about a similar phenomenon occurring with hearing loss and auditory "hallucinations."

In 2014, in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, an article addressed "auditory Charles Bonnet Syndrome." This is a link to the abstract of this article:

And here is an excerpt:
"Visual hallucinations of Charles Bonnet syndrome (CBS) secondary to visual deprivation occur in 11–15% of elderly patients with acquired visual impairment. It is increasingly recognized that there is an auditory form of CBS consisting of musical hallucinations in elderly patients with acquired hearing loss. Here we present two cases of auditory CBS. Neurologists should be aware of the entity of auditory CBS in the form of musical hallucinations in elderly patients with significant hearing loss."

I also discovered a series of collected articles on this phenomenon, called Musical Ear Syndrome, or MES, from the Center for Hearing Loss Help. Here is a link to those articles:

I hope this is helpful as a starting point. If you have more questions, please feel free to write again.

Re: Can vision loss cause you to hear phantom noises?

Thank you for posting. We have reached out to the Helen Keller National Center for assistance in responding to you. Their audiologist has replied as follows:
"We’ve seen that as people experience changes in their vision they may experience changes in their other senses. This needs to be addressed with a team of providers: audiologist, psychologist or social worker, close family and/or friends to help the person understand what is going on. Working with professionals who are familiar with vision and hearing loss is critical. HKNC will be happy follow up with you and your wife personally if you have additional questions."

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