Understanding the Symptoms of Balint's Syndrome

A Trio of Symptoms Caused by Damage to the Parietal Lobes

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Imagine this. When you get out of bed in the morning, you can’t distinguish where the drawers are that hold your clothes. At first you think you might just be tired, but then you realize you can’t figure out where the wall ends, and where the door begins. You want to telephone for help, but struggle to find your cell phone. Fortunately, your family member points out that the phone is in fact right in front of you, on the counter where you left it.

When the phone is handed to you, the numbers seem to float in space, making it impossible for you to dial a number.

Could there be something wrong with your eyes? You go to the eye doctor, and are told that your vision is perfect, despite the fact that you can hardly find the door to leave the office. You’ve been given a referral to a neurologist. What’s going on?

What is Balint's syndrome?

Balint’s syndrome is a strange combination of three symptoms:

  • Oculomotor apraxia: the inability to intentionally move your eyes towards an object.
  • Optic ataxia: the inability to accurately reach for something you're looking at. 
  • Visual simultagnosia: the inability to take in the entirety of a picture. Instead, a person sees only parts of the whole. For example, when shown a picture of a house, someone with simultagnosia could only see a window, a door, a wall, and so on, but not the entire house.

What Causes Balint's Syndrome?

The disorder usually results from damage to both parietal lobes, which help us know where we and other objects are in space.

When symptoms come on suddenly, they're likely due to stroke. But other disorders such as tumors, trauma, near-drowning, eclampsia, HIV encephalitis, and even neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, can also lead to Balint’s syndrome.

What Does it Feel Like to Have Balint's Syndrome?

Someone with Balint’s syndrome can’t judge her location relative to things around her by sight.

She must depend on other senses to guide her. She may, for example, need to keep a hand on the sink in order to know where it is in the bathroom. And she may need to put toothpaste into her mouth, rather than on the toothbrush. She may not be able to use utensils at the table, since she can’t use vision to aim her hand to pick up a fork or a spoon. In addition, it may be impossible for people with Balint’s syndrome to read, since simultagnosia means she may only see one letter at a time, and may not be able to put that letter into the context of a word or sentence.

Therapy for People with Balint's syndrome

Occupational therapy offers some means for people with Balint’s syndrome to recover a degree of independence. While different approaches have been suggested, no one approach is clearly the best, and it may be helpful to consider using techniques normally used to assist the blind. For example, therapists may suggest ways to use other senses to replace damaged perception. Books on tape can be used instead of usual reading material, and a radio may replace television viewing. In order to get this kind of assistance, though, both the patient and the medical professional must be aware of the problem in the first place.

A Tricky Diagnosis

Because Balint’s syndrome is relatively uncommon, the symptoms are often missed. Knowing that visual disturbances may not always be a problem with the eyes, but may also result from trouble with the brain, is a good start. If you are concerned about your vision or spatial disturbances or that of a loved one, please seek the guidance of a neurologist. 


Amalnath SD, Kumar S, Deepanjali S, & Dutta TK. Balin syndrome. Ann Indian Acad Neurol. 2014 Jan-Mar;17(1):10-11.

Jason Cuomo, Murray Flaster, and Jose Biller. Living with Balint's: A Descriptive, Narrative Account of Two Patients' Adaptations to Living with a Rare and Disabling Visuoperceptual Disorder (P02.036)Neurology April 22, 2012 78:

Allan Ropper and Robert Brown, Adam's and Victor's Principles of Neurology, 8th Edition McGraw-Hill Companies Inc, United States of America, 2005, pp 417-430.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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