Can You Focus on the Future of Vision Therapy?

In Brief:

  • Convergence insufficiency is an eye condition that causes headaches and/or double vision when the patient focuses on a nearby object.
  • New Jersey’s Dr. Tara Alvarez is researching brain function differences between patients with and without convergence insufficiency.
  • Dr. Alvarez is using innovative vision therapy based on video games to treat convergence insufficiency.

Do your eyes feel tired when reading? Do you feel like you read slowly? In today’s technology age, it’s not uncommon for people to experience visual stress and fatigue because of prolonged smartphone and computer usage. However, patients who suffer from convergence insufficiency (CI) experience these symptoms to the extreme; some have trouble with tasks as simple as reading this article.

Many of us take sight for granted, but one in twelve of us suffers from convergence insufficiency. People with CI can’t focus both eyes simultaneously for more than 15-20 minutes, which leads to double vision and headaches. This condition frequently develops in middle-aged adults, but they are not the only ones afflicted. In fact, the condition is more prevalent in children, especially those suffering from ADHD. Without therapy, CI will not go away.

Promising Research
Dr. Tara Alvarez is the director of the Vision and Neural Engineering Laboratory at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, NJ. She is dedicating her research to improving vision therapy that is vital for patients suffering from CI. Dr. Alvarez divided her research into three distinct phases. In her first phase, she tested the efficacy of using pencil push-ups, a therapy that requires the eyes to focus on a pencil continuously moving back and forth. Testing showed that pencil push-ups can improve vision. But according to Dr. Alvarez, “Children in the clinical trial were obviously bored by this traditional vision therapy.” So in her second phase, she tried something more creative. Inspired by the video game “Galactica,” Dr. Alvarez and her students designed a video game that functions as vision therapy while creating an engaging environment for young patients. Dr. Alvarez believes that game design is the future of vision therapy for convergence insufficiency and possibly other ocular disorders that often affect children.

Dr. Alvarez uses traditional techniques like “pencil push-ups” and newer, engaging experiences like a Galactica-based video game as vision therapy for her CI patients.

How can Dr. Alvarez be sure that the vision therapy is actually working in her patients? In the third phase of her investigation, Dr. Alvarez is using state of the art functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to visualize changes in the neural infrastructure of patients with convergence insufficiency before and after vision therapy. While this research is still ongoing, preliminary results are positive.

Dr. Alvarez’s work shows that vision therapy can be both effective and entertaining. Her breakthrough research offers patients with a variety of vision disorders a chance to see a brighter future.

Works Cited

  1. Alvarez, Tara L. et al. “Vision Therapy in Adults with Convergence Insufficiency: Clinical and Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Measures.” Optometry and vision science : official publication of the American Academy of Optometry 87.12 (2010): E985–1002. PMC. Web. 30 August 2015.
  2. Alvarez, Tara. Personal interview. 6 June 2015
  3. Davis, Tod T., and Amy E. Carlyle. “Convergence Insufficiency Sufferers Still Ignored by Many Eye Doctors.” Vision Therapy Children, Adults. Behavioral Optometrist Virginia – Dr Tod R Davis. Virginia Vision Therapy Center, 30 Jan. 2013. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Katelyn McCreedy: Editor-in-Chief
Vivian Qiang: Creative Team Coordinator
Shreyas Agnihotri: Team Copy Editor
Isaiah Beals: Team Graphic Designer

Image Credits:
Feature Image: [“Blurred Newspaper” by Christian Alexander Tietgen, via Wikimedia Commons. (Unedited). License: CC BY SA 3.0]
Story Image: Graphic by Staff Illustrator, Lotta Meriluoto

This article was written by Yashaar Hafizka. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cYw Editorial Staff

Yashaar Hafizka

Author: Yashaar Hafizka

Hi there and welcome to cSw! As a senior, I am excited to be a first-time writer and editor here. Science and writing are two passions that go hand-in-hand for me. I am a writer and editor for my school’s science magazine, the Academy Scientific. I am also an independent researcher at my high school where I am investigating how immunotherapies can be used to treat cancer, specifically chronic myelogenous leukemia. Through my research I have gained an understanding of why communicating properly in science is important. I am president of my school’s Key Club where we take part in school-wide campaigns to encourage happiness in the school environment and raise funds to eliminate neonatal tetanus. I love volunteering in my community as an EMT, reading, going to the movies, and taking walks with my family. My dream is to become a surgeon with an MD/PhD.

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