Computer technique could help partially sighted 'see' better

May 18, 2010, Durham University
This image shows what a person with hemianopia can see when looking at Durham Cathedral. Credit: Durham University

Thousands of people who are partially-sighted following stroke or brain injury could gain greater independence from a simple, cheap and accessible training course which could eventually be delivered from their mobile phones or hand-held games consoles, according to a new study.

The new research has found that a computer-based technique developed and assessed by Durham University improved partially-sighted people's ability to 'see' better. It may eventually improve and broaden the portfolio of rehabilitation techniques for partially-sighted patients.

The study, published in the academic journal, Brain, tested the technique on patients who suffer from a condition affecting their sight called hemianopia.

Hemianopia affects over 4,000 people in the UK each year. Sufferers lose half of their visual field due to stroke or other . They are heavily dependent on others as they struggle with balance, walking, finding things around the house, and they are not normally able to drive.

The research was funded by the Medical Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, and supported by the charity Action for Blind People.

The study, which tested patients' visual ability before and after the training, found that patients became faster and more accurate at detecting objects, such as coloured dots or numbers, on a .

The researchers believe the test helped patients to compensate for their lost vision by exploring their 'blind field' more, which is the part of the visual field affected by the brain damage. Further research is needed to pinpoint exactly why the technique helps patients to 'see' better but the scientists believe it is likely due to improved attention, concentration and awareness of their visual problems.

The study findings offer hope that people who receive regular training like this could live more independently in their day-to-day lives because their visual ability would be improved.

Lead researcher, Dr Alison Lane, from Durham University's Psychology Department, said: "This research shows us that basic training works in getting people to use their 'poor' visual side better.

"Although we are not yet sure why this happens, we think it might be because training increases their attention, concentration and awareness of their 'blind' field.

"We think attention is key in improving people's abilities to use their limited vision."

She added: "This simple technique is a very viable rehabilitation option and in future could be easily accessible at low cost to everyone who needs it."

Currently, there is no widely available treatment for people who experience visual loss following because of the lack of scientific evidence that existing therapies are effective, according to the study authors.

The Durham study compared two types of rehabilitation techniques - one focused on exploration and the other on attention. Neither training option is currently available on the NHS although alternative training programmes can be bought privately.

The research, which tested 46 patients, found that the basic attention training without the need for patients to move their eyes extensively was for the most part as effective at rehabilitation as the more specialised exploration technique.

The scientists say patients may even be able to see similar improvements in their vision by playing mainstream computer games, particularly those whereby you need to scan virtual environments with your eyes.

Professor David Mendelow, a neurosurgeon at Newcastle General Hospital and professor of neurosurgery at Newcastle University, said: "Hemianopia is often not recognised and is probably much more common than realised. Patients and their families find it very difficult to understand this problem of 'half blindness'.

"At Newcastle General, we have trained our occupational therapists to recognise this visual problem and we can now identify patients with hemianopia at an early stage.

"The Neurosciences Unit at Durham University, where we refer patients on to, is to be congratulated on demonstrating how successful this kind of visual retraining can be."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Study looks at how newly discovered gene helps grow blood vessels

February 19, 2018
A new study published today found that a newly discovered gene helps grow blood vessels when it senses inadequate blood flow to tissues.

Scientists produce human intestinal lining that re-creates living tissue inside organ-chip

February 16, 2018
Investigators have demonstrated how cells of a human intestinal lining created outside an individual's body mirror living tissue when placed inside microengineered Intestine-Chips, opening the door to personalized testing ...

Data wave hits health care

February 16, 2018
Technology used by Facebook, Google and Amazon to turn spoken language into text, recognize faces and target advertising could help doctors fight one of the deadliest infections in American hospitals.

Researcher explains how statistics, neuroscience improve anesthesiology

February 16, 2018
It's intuitive that anesthesia operates in the brain, but the standard protocol among anesthesiologists when monitoring and dosing patients during surgery is to rely on indirect signs of arousal like movement, and changes ...

Team reports progress in pursuit of sickle cell cure

February 16, 2018
Scientists have successfully used gene editing to repair 20 to 40 percent of stem and progenitor cells taken from the peripheral blood of patients with sickle cell disease, according to Rice University bioengineer Gang Bao.

Appetite-controlling molecule could prevent 'rebound' weight gain after dieting

February 15, 2018
Scientists have revealed how mice control their appetite when under stress such as cold temperatures and starvation, according to a new study by Monash University and St Vincent's Institute in Melbourne. The results shed ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.