visual agnosia

Visual Agnosia | Clinical Psychology

What is Visual Agnosia?

As you have landed on this article, I can assume you might already know a little bit about visual Agnosia. If you don’t- here is the neurological definition:-

Visual Agnosia is a rare disorder of the brain which makes a person incapable to identify an object of any kind.

The capability that almost everyone is blessed with can create a grave nuisance for those who lack it.

Imagine, you found a ball lying on the road. You can see it exactly as it is but for a patient suffering from visual agnosia, it may seem like a circular material made of rubber. Or… if I show you a pen, what would you see?  Visual agnosia patients may express it as a stick with blue color in it or something completely illogical to us.

a ball seen by visual agnosia
Image by Bessi from Pixabay

 They are confused easily and are unable to associate the objects properly. I don’t know about you but I would have got a massive panic attack. Such incidents can be no less than a nightmare.

You can understand how crucial it is to perceive and recognize objects as they are. If you aren’t able to do the same, then it can very easily spiral down into something worrisome. People with visual agnosia become very sensitive and alert to the world around them. They also easily become frustrated and angry with themselves.

Types of Visual agnosia

1. Apperceptive Visual agnosia

The type where one cannot identify the shape of the object. Such patients are unable to process the information properly.

2. Associative Visual agnosia

The type where one does understand the object but are unable to recollect it from their memory.

A Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat

In psychology, there is a famous example of visual agnosia: A Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat documented by Oliver Sacks, a renowned neurologist. A visual agnosia patient named as Dr. P confused his wife’s head as his hat and tried to take her head out. Oliver Sacks was amused by the case because it tells us a very distinguishing factor between Visual agnosia and Prosopagnosia.

Unlike Prosopagnosia (the inability to recognize faces), visual agnosia deals with people who are unable to recognize a human face as a living thing and confuses with random objects. Confusion between head and hat can seem funny to a normal person but it is a very scary illness to possess.

The scientific explanation

Our brain is a very powerful machine yet an extremely complex one.  There are trillions of neural connections in our brain and if anything goes wrong with them, they are almost irreversible.

visual ahnosia is a mental disease
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The main cause of Visual agnosia is the inability to process visual information. The eyes are producing the correct image in the retina and the precise information travels to the associative cortex of the occipital lobe. It is here where the malfunction occurs.

If a patient suffers brain damage in the past, lesions can develop. And brain damage can take shape in the form of brain injury, tumor or stroke which may result in severe neural complications.

Moreover, it is a very rare neurological disease and mostly found as a complementary illness along with other brain issues.


  • CT Scan
  • MRI


As I discussed earlier, any type of physical brain damage is almost irreversible. So there exists no explicit treatment for visual agnosia.

However, for non-critical patients, we can do a few adjustments for improving the lives of such patients.

  • Rehabilitation facilities (mapping the common objects to the memory)
  • Lifestyle changes – E.g.- hiring support for daily activities
  • Resolving other mental health issues can improve the case

For critical patients, a neurologist may suggest brain surgery. However, it is a very rare procedure because brain surgery can irreversibly affect other parts of the brain.

A better alternative: Sometimes repeated therapies with clinical psychologists can improve a patient’s condition manifold.


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Trisha Nandi

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