Vision therapy and its potential to help brain injury survivors can often be underestimated. Vision encapsulates so much more than being able to read increasingly small letters with 20/20 vision acuity. Our sight gives us the gifts of intelligent movement, information processing, and so many other crucial processes. With over 50% of the brain’s outer layer dedicated to interpreting visual information, the anatomy of our brains reflects the significance of sight. When an individual suffers a TBI, their brain can experience a primary insult in one region as well as a secondary insult in another region as the brain swells or whiplashes—increasing the odds of vision-related damage. Vision issues are some of the most commonly reported TBI symptoms. With 2.84 million TBI-related emergency room visits reported in 2014, the enormous number of people living with vision-related issues becomes apparent.
While vision therapy is often a missing piece of the puzzle for brain injury survivors, it can be easy to overlook which is why healthcare providers examine a handful of symptoms to help inform their diagnosis. In a similar manner, identifying your own symptoms can yield insights into how vision therapy can help you recover. Blurred or double-vision—where images are duplicated, overlapping, or fuzzy around the edges—can be a clear indicator of vision issues. Words that move when you read them or trouble focusing on objects, which are called saccadic dysfunction and accommodative disorder respectively, are other telltale signs. However, other symptoms that you may immediately associate with vision are also crucial to consider. Headaches during nearsighted tasks, motion sickness, lack of concentration, and many other symptoms might also lead a brain injury survivor to vision therapy.
As a result of the extensive influence of sight within the brain, no brain injury prognosis is complete without vision therapy. In this rehabilitative area, optometrists and neuro-optometrists teach the brain how to recover properly—but there’s more. Vision therapy can also be used to help the brain unlearn its automatic, incorrect recovery trajectory.
As Dr. Yamam Almouradi—a neuro-optometry specialist—describes it, "The brain wants to recover, but without the correct tools, it will recover in the wrong way causing symptoms like double vision or suppression in one eye. While the exact experience of brain injury survivors can vary greatly, vision therapy offers a promising first stop for finding the tools necessary to recover.”
Vision therapy employs a number of fascinating strategies to help the brain get recover more fully. One such example is central and peripheral training. Following an insult, the brain may have trouble using both eyes equally and efficiently to understand visual space. This can result in increased fatigue, eyestrain, and headaches from trying to use the eyes intensively. With central and peripheral training, patients perform exercises, often with the aid of a prism. The prism partially sorts the visual space on behalf of the user’s brain—alleviating some of the strain and allowing them to build up their endurance over time. Like weights in the gym, these prisms change overtime to put more of the workload onto the patient’s eyes. Another practice used in vision therapy is syntonic phototherapy. Here, patients perform visual exercises through colored lenses, which target and suppress specific, vision-related pathways in the brain. Alex Becker, who uses syntonic phototherapy at home, describes how she has glasses “with both a stimulant and a suppressant involved with the colored lenses” that she views a light through. With certain pathways blocked off, the brain cannot rely on the incorrect visual processing pathway it learned previously freeing up space to reinforce the correct pathway.
The potential benefits vision therapy offers to brain injury survivors are extensive. For patients who have grappled with their TBI recovery for some time, this rehabilitative area may be crucial for undoing the brain’s incorrect healing. For patients with a more recent brain injury, vision therapy is an invaluable starting point on the path to recovery. At Power of Patients, we are committed to empowering the brain injury community. As such, Power of Patients hosted a three-part webinar alongside neuro-optometry specialists Dr. Katie Davis and Dr. Yamam Almouradi to share more about the practice. You can learn more about Dr. Katie Davis and her affiliated organization here. You can learn more about Dr. Yamam Almouradi on her Facebook page here, or her Sight and Sketches organization here.
In the first of this three-part series, our experts will discuss the importance of vision, common symptoms of vision issues, and available treatment strategies. We hope you will watch to learn more about this intriguing topic.