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Highland Army veteran raises awareness of rare sight loss condition which causes terrifying hallucinations

By Alasdair Fraser

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Veteran John Baptie.
Veteran John Baptie.

An army veteran who "went through hell" as a rare sight loss condition began to cause terrifying hallucinations is championing charitable efforts to offer help and spread awareness.

John Baptie (72), from Ardersier, began to lose his sight several years ago and was soon troubled by distressing visual hallucinations such as giant spiders and faceless human figures.

Fearing he was "losing his mind" or suffering from dementia, the retired soldier even began to make preparations for his own funeral.

In fact, Mr Baptie was coping, undiagnosed, with little-known Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS), named after the naturalist who first documented the affliction in his grandfather in 1760.

He eventually received the help he needed through a new link-up between charities Sight Scotland Veterans and the Esme’s Umbrella.

The two organisations are combining to offer help to those in need through the Esme’s Friends CBS support group. The Sight Scotland Veterans rehabilitation team noticed that some veterans with sight loss spoke of increased or changing CBS experiences during the pandemic.

CBS can affect people of any age with vision loss and causes visual, silent hallucinations varying greatly from person to person. There is no diagnostic test available to doctors.

Some see repeating images of everyday items, while others experience worrying or frightening hallucinations.

Mr Baptie said: "I found the Esme’s Friends sessions to be a great help, talking to people with similar experiences.

"I’ve not been able to talk about this before to anyone because you feel you don’t want to draw attention to yourself. Nobody had ever mentioned Charles Bonnet Syndrome to me before, not even at the eye clinic.

"With Sight Scotland Veterans’ support, I realise now these things I’m seeing aren’t real. Previously, I felt haunted. I went through hell thinking that I had dementia and that things were going to get worse.

"I would see enormous spiders and people dressed in black. When I approached them, I couldn’t see their faces.

"I would get lost on walks I knew. You think you’re going mad. It’s a great relief to know the charities have taken up the gauntlet with this.

"By sharing my experiences, I can maybe help others."

More information on Charles Bonnet Syndrome can be found at charlesbonnetsyndrome.uk, Esme’s Umbrella helpline on 0207 391 3299 and from Sight Scotland Veterans on 0800 035 6409.

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