04. Wellness

Vision Therapy: A New Wave in Optometry?

January 27, 2017

In the past decades, a growing number of optometrists have begun to recognize the importance of treating the visual system, as opposed to simply visual acuity. Given that 70% of incoming sensory information is visual, simply treating a patient’s ability to see clearly (20/20) is not enough.

In fact, visual acuity is only about 1 in 17 visual skills that are needed for an efficient and accurate visual system. This explains why many adults and children are left to struggle with issues their visual conditions cause. For instance, 1 in 4 children have a visual condition that may interfere with learning.

Neglected Visual Issues

Vision problems resulting from concussions or traumatic brain injuries are also often overlooked. This is particularly the case during initial treatment of the injury. Why? Well, there’s an extremely high chance that the average practitioner has never learned about concussions.

In fact, recent studies reveal that the majority of frontline family and ER physicians are very limited when it comes to concussion knowledge. This also includes the application of appropriate concussion management. Consequently, the affected patient is sent to an occupational therapist or physical therapist for rehabilitation, as opposed to optometrists in vision therapy.

Aiding Overall Rehabilitation

Vision problems that are hidden or neglected, however, can have serious consequences. For one, it can lengthen and impair rehabilitation. Unfortunately, general practitioners underestimate the beneficial role vision care professionals can play in overall rehabilitation. Nevertheless, an increasing number of optometrists are starting to offer vision therapy as an integral part of their practice.

Vision Therapy

Vision therapy provides patients with the right opportunity to develop new neurological pathways relating to the control of the eyes. This relates to the perception and processing of incoming information. Vision therapy can help with reading speed, reading comprehension, attention deficit disorders related to vision conditions, hand eye coordination, balance and brain injury rehabilitation.

As an optometrist, learning and implementing new technologies, as a part of vision therapy, is huge if you want to say ahead of the game. NeuroTracker, a multiple object tracking tool, is one of these technologies.

Enhancing Athletic Performance

Over the past 15 years, Dr. Keith Smithson, O.D., has built up core technologies for vision-related training, testing and health. He’s been using NeuroTracker in his practice for the past 3 years for performance, vision enhancement and concussion rehabilitation.

As the Team Optometrist for the Washington Wizards, Washington Mystics, Washington Spirit and DC United, Dr. Smithson says he’s made great strides with his athletes using NeuroTracker. He stated: “Once these athletes see the difference NeuroTracker is making on the field, they become completely devoted.”

Similarly, Dr. Charles Shidlofksy, O.D., also uses NeuroTracker in his practice, as a spatial training tool. He says: “I always knew that we could enhance the visual system in a way that could help athletes become better performers. NeuroTracker is used in all our athletic training programs.”

Learning-related Visual Problems

Dr. Cameron McCrodan, O.D., uses NeuroTracker as a tool in his reading and learning programs at his visual development clinic. A learning-related visual problem directly affects how we learn, read, or sustain close work. Tracking and other visual problems, however, are often not evaluated during testing for learning disabilities.

Dr. McCrodan uses vision therapy to treat both children and adults who suffer from visual processing deficits. These deficits pertain to eye tracking skills, eye teaming skills, binocular vision, visual perception, and many more.

Post-Concussion Recovery Treatments

Although routinely used for active rehabilitation, the application of NeuroTracker for post-concussion recovery is less well-known. Dr. Smithson treats a very wide range of patients suffering from concussions.

Symptoms can involve optic distortions, ocular-muscular problems, multiple object tracking deficiencies, as well as sensory integration and overload issues. He says, “We have a range of interventions we use specialized for dealing with each of these effects, but NeuroTracker has become an important tool for us in many of our post-concussion recovery sessions.”

It’s clear that visual skills are vital for processing information efficiently. When these skills are dysfunctional, any task can seem difficult and require greater energy than usual. So whether a child is having vision-related learning difficulties, or an athlete is recovering from a concussion, or an elderly individual needs help navigating a busy environment (crossing the street or driving), vision therapy can be a beneficial solution.

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