Could mirrors help blind people with phantom limb pain?

02 December 2007

Question

My mother had her leg amputated before she died and I know she suffered greatly with phantom pains. I was interested because the biggest cause of blindness is diabetes. I know a lot of blind people do have amputations through diabetes. I just wondered how this new experiment you’ve been talking about (using a mirror to reduce phantom limb pains) would affect blind people with amputations.

Answer

That's an amazing point that you've made. I think it's one which, unfortunately, hasn't been considered in the present research. You're absolutely right, diabetes is the leading cause of sight loss in countries like this one and unfortunately because the trial they did involved people being able to see it would mean that people that have blindness from diabetes and had had an amputation would have a problem with doing this. It would be difficult. We therefore have to think, 'is there another way to do what they did?' It might be that there are ways of using various nerve stimulation to fool the brain into getting signals from the missing body part and that's definitely possible because a lot of the nerves that supplied the missing body part, the stumps of those nerves, may still be there. It might be possible to do that instead.

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