- Convergence insufficiency (CI) is a disease that causes affected people to see double images.
- Traditional vision therapy was found to improve the eyesight of 73% of children studied who have CI.
- Dr. Tara Alvarez is developing a 3D game based on Galactica for children with CI to augment traditional therapy.
Imagine going to see a 3D movie only to find that the theater has run out of glasses. You ask yourself, “how bad can it really be?” and decide to watch anyway. Once the movie starts, you cannot see the images clearly. In fact, you see two images of the screen. You cannot even understand what is going on.
Almost 42 million people in the United States struggle with this same visual abnormality every day. People living with this binocular dysfunction called Convergence insufficiency (CI) constantly see double. They have trouble concentrating when they read, which causes intense headaches. Even worse, many of them have attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), which comes with troubling symptoms of its own. Overall, people with CI find it nearly impossible to focus in any environment.
Vision Therapy Can Help
There are treatments available to combat convergence insufficiency. Traditional vision therapy, a noninvasive treatment, aims to teach the eyes and other parts of the visual system to self-correct. Typical therapy includes looking through prisms, completing letter-finding puzzles, and doing pencil pushups, which involves moving a sharpened pencil towards your face as you focus on the tip.
Some physicians question the efficacy of this kind of therapy and do not prescribe it for their patients. To determine its value, the National Institutes of Health funded a multi-center randomized clinical trial to test how well pencil pushups, home vision therapy, and office-based vergence/accommodative therapy worked on children with CI compared to a placebo treatment. Researchers studied children from 9 to 18 years old with symptomatic CI and found that 73% of children who went through real vision therapy experienced reduced symptoms. The researchers concluded that current vision therapy methods are effective, despite disbelief among medical professionals.
Scientists now know that the therapy works but they are still curious about how it affects the brain. Dr. Tara Alvarez, a professor of biomedical engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), and her team are attempting to understand how the brain is changed by vision therapy. Since CI often affects children, Dr.Alvarez and her team recognize the importance of making vision therapy engaging. Accordingly, she is working with two undergraduate students, Robert Gioia, a junior in information technology, and John Vito d’Antonio-Bertagnolli, a senior in biomedical engineering, to create a virtual reality game based on Galactica and other fantasy games. Dr. Alvarez hopes this therapeutic video game will augment normal vision therapy and can be tested in a clinical trial soon.
Living with convergence insufficiency is no easy feat and any treatment that can ease symptoms of CI is a step in the right direction. Interactive and fun video game therapy is promising because of its appeal for kids. Thanks to Dr. Alvarez’s research, many children may soon be playing their way to better sight.
- 1. Alvarez, Tara. Personal interview. 6 June 2015.
- “Convergence Insufficiency.” Mayo Clinic. 24 June 2014. Web. 6 July 2015.
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