Vision therapy helps maximize the performance and connection between the eyes and brain.
Have you ever had your physical ability limited by an accident or injury? If you have, you know that physical therapy can help you rebuild and coordinate your muscles so that you can achieve maximum physical performance. Vision therapy is much like physical therapy for the eyes. It incorporates a series of exercises designed to build new neuropathways in the brain that will teach the eyes to work optimally as a team.
We often use vision therapy when damage has occurred to the brain, from head traumas, strokes or tumors. Depending on where the damage occurs, patients can experience symptoms like double vision, balance problems, loss of 3-D vision or mid-line shift (when your body feels off-center). Simple tasks like reaching for an object or walking through a door can be challenging for patients with brain damage. Through vision therapy, patients develop new tools for visual processing in order for them to use their vision more effectively and efficiently.
However, vision therapy can benefit all of us. Do you participate in a sport? Work on a computer? Have a child in school who is struggling with reading or learning? A trained optometrist can help you develop exercises tailored to your own personal goals, to get your eyes working as an optimal team. In my practice, I have worked with athletes in baseball, volleyball and tennis on tasks like ball tracking and balance enhancement.
Vision therapy also helps many children who are having trouble in school due to an eye movement problem, a lazy eye (where one eye appears to be looking somewhere else), or a visual processing problem. Often, the teacher or parent may not know that their children’s learning problems are related to vision.
Finally, it is important to note that some of the causes of brain damage that may require vision therapy, like strokes and tumors, can be caught during a routine eye exam. I have had a few patients who came in for a routine eye exam, and I ended up sending them straight to a cardiologist or neurosurgeon for treatment. Your regular eye exam can even be life-saving. Be sure to ask your optometrist during your yearly exam about how vision therapy can help you reach your maximum vision potential.
Here are some simple vision therapy exercise you could start at home:
- Pick one object near you and another one far from you and alternate focusing on them. For kids, have them hold out a favorite toy and then ask them to look out the window as far as they can see.
- Simply take a short break from all close-up work, like reading or working on your computer, every 20 minutes.
- Hang a small ball from the ceiling at nose height and practice tracking the ball with your eyes as it swings back and forth. This can help athletes and especially children with reading difficulties.