The description of minor hallucinatory phenomena (presence, passage hallucinations) has widened the spectrum of psychosis in Parkinson’s disease (PD). Minor hallucinations or delusions occur in approximately 50% of people with PD over the course of the illness, and may herald the emergence of dementia.
Patients say that the presences are not distressing, are short-lasting, and often are felt beside or behind them, while at home.
Such sensations have given rise to numerous literary and religious accounts. The first description of feeling of a presence by a psychologist was probably that of William James in 1902: “It often happens that an hallucination is imperfectly developed: the person affected will feel a ‘ presence ’ in the room, definitely localized, ( ... ) and yet neither seen, heard, touched, nor cognized in any of the usual ‘ sensible ’ ways . ”
Jaspers described the same phenomenon in 1913 under the name leibhaftige Bewusstheit : “There are patients who have a certain feeling or awareness that someone is close by, behind them or above them, someone that they can in no way perceive with the external senses, yet whose actual and concrete presence is clearly experienced ”.
Bleuler called “ extracampine ” a type of visual or tactile hallucination that occurs outside the limits of the sensory field. For example, a patient felt, on his skin, mice running on a wall, while another one “saw” birds or persons in a garden while seated in a room with his back to the window.
In a recent publication, the authors asked to 25 patients who endorsed presence phenomena, to complete a semi-structured interview about their experiences. The cognitive profiles of these patients were then compared to those of age- and education-matched patients who denied presence phenomena.
Patients described the presence as mostly that of an unknown human but without much interactions. Patients who described it as unpleasant were noted to also demonstrate elevated anxiety. Those patients who identified the presence as a known person, described it as touching them, or interacted with the presence emotionally or physically demonstrated reduced insight.
Presence phenomena were frequently associated impairments in visual processing, executive function and speed of processing and they may involve the posterior cortical functions. The experience is shaped by the patient's emotional state and level of understanding.
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