Visual Problems

The ability to process and understand sensory information from the eyes takes place in the brain. The eyes transmit information from the environment through the optic nerves to the part of the brain that determines what the person is actually seeing. A TBI can affect this area of the brain or the optic nerves, resulting in blind spots, vision loss, and/or changes in the brain’s ability to understand what the eyes see.

The ability to perceive where you are in space and in relation to other items in the environment may also be affected by TBI. This is called spatial awareness.

Injury to the right side of the brain in particular can lead to difficulties in these areas.

What might you see?

  • Tendency to ignore things on one side of the body (for example, a person touching the arm, leg, face, or trunk on one side of the body)
  • Bumping into things on the affected side
  • Difficulty finding their way around, especially in new places
  • Difficulty recognizing shapes and telling the difference between shapes
  • Turning their head towards the unaffected side (away from the affected side) of the body to be able to see what is happening around them
  • When reading, cutting words in half or beginning to read in the middle of the sentence or page
  • Mistaking the location of a chair when sitting down
  • Misjudging distance (for example, missing the cup when pouring)
  • Standing too close or too far from others in social situations
  • Confusion between right and left
  • Complaints of impaired vision (unable to see objects clearly or difficulty seeing a person/object/scene fully)

How can you help?

  • Ask your healthcare provider about consulting with an eye specialist to identify your family member’s specific visual and/or visual spatial problems.
  • Place objects on the affected side of the body. For example, place a glass to drink from on the affected side so that they are required to turn and look for the glass before picking it up to drink. This is called visual cueing.
  • Remind your family member to frequently look around the environment, especially toward the affected side. This is called visual scanning.
  • Use visual cues (for example, a dark line) on one side of a page to encourage visual scanning of the entire page.
  • Arrange your house to make everyday tasks easier. For example, have items to accomplish a task organized in one place (such as clothes, shoes, etc. for dressing, or the ingredients and cookware needed to prepare a meal).
  • Show your family member around new places several times. Avoid sending them to new places alone.
  • Limit clutter in the house. This will help them stay safe when moving around the home.
  • Try not to move familiar items around in your house (for example, a favorite chair or where their clothes are kept). This will help minimize their confusion and help reinforce their memory.
  • Remind your family member to use handrails on stairs and/or in the bathroom and shower (if available).
  • Provide gentle reminders that they are standing too close or too far away during social encounters.
  • Seek advice from the healthcare provider about whether or not it is safe for the service member or veteran to drive.