Poor vision affects millions of people worldwide, but the only ‘cure’ for most is costly corrective surgery or cumbersome glasses. But what if you could improve your eyesight without lasers or lenses, and instead sharpen your vision by playing a few iPad games? Sound too good to be true? Well welcome to the world of vision therapy apps.
Opticians are generally divided on what the benefits of vision therapy are and whether it is suitable for any and all patients with vision problems. While vision therapy is often prescribed by optometrists to deal with certain eye issues relating to orthoptics, many have a healthy suspicion of smartphone and tablet apps that claim to be able to improve your eyesight.
Do any optometrists endorse vision therapy apps?
Most optometrists refrain from endorsing apps simply to prevent people running out and purchasing apps without first consulting a healthcare professional. If done incorrectly, vision therapy can actually strain your eyes, and it is therefore recommended that you consult an optician or optometrists before jumping in. If you are a suitable candidate for vision therapy, you may be recommended to take up vision therapy with a licensed therapist – who then can assess whether these ‘apps’ are for you.
Some optometrists actually use vision therapy apps either as in-session training or as take-home exercises, but again their use has been prescribed by an eye care professional who has decided that vision therapy would be useful in their case. Even then, the benefits aren’t always proven. There is a significant lack of clinical trials that definitely prove the benefits of vision therapy for certain eye conditions, despite the fact many people swear by it.
So how do vision therapy apps work?
Vision therapy apps work by putting your eyes through a series of exercises designed to strengthen and stimulate different parts of your vision. While part of your vision is predetermined by the shape and function of your eye, part of the process of vision is also ‘learned’ because of the transmit of information from your eye to your brain. Vision therapy apps try capitalise on this by working your eye reactions to ‘train’ your eye to see better.
Are vision therapy apps suitable for kids?
While the medical opinion on vision therapy is far from conclusive, one area of agreement seems to be for the treatment of the common childhood condition of amblyopia. Also know as Lazy Eye, amblyopia is a condition in childhood where the eyesight in one eye does not develop properly and so children end up heavily relying on the vision of their one ‘good eye’. Children with amblyopia are widely known as some of the most successful candidates for home vision therapy, simply because the treatment for amblyopia is to force the child to use their bad eye (which if caught early enough can strengthen it and return eyesight in it to normal levels). Although the most common form of vision therapy for amblyopia is wearing an eye patch on the ‘good eye’ for periods of the day, it is thought that (if recommended by an eye care professional) combining a patch with vision training games is an age-appropriate and helpful way to intensify the eye-workout for the affected eye.
What kind of vision therapy apps are out there?
Tap in Apps has an iPad vision therapy app that can be used in office therapy sessions or at home for therapy sessions. The app makers recommend that it should not be used without supervision or recommendation by a vision therapy provider as the use of the app could exacerbate a vision problem. The app is a collection of different eye exercises, each designed to work on a different area of your vision.
One exercise is called “Tach.” It assesses visual perception by the user choosing between flashing letters and numbers. The exercise can also be used to increase reading speed. Another exercise, “Tach Tracing,” assesses and can improve visual-spatial relationships.
“Speed Tap” is used to test and improve certain eye movements called saccadic as well as hand-eye coordination and reaction time. The “Reaction Time” exercise tests and records user reaction time as well as the speed of the user’s finger to move from one corner of the screen to another. “Stereogram” is an exercise that requires colored glasses. It simulates 3D images using random-dot stereograms in order to improve skills regarding eye teaming. Finally, the last exercise “Card Flip” is a time-based card matching game.
So is vision therapy worth it?
Vision therapy as practiced by trained optometrists or therapists is often a helpful way to solve or improve eye problems. However apps which claim to do the same are often not tested, and rely on anecdotal evidence to back up their claims. If the apps are free, then it may be worth a try to see if you individually see any improvement. Otherwise, when it comes to vision your optician probably knows best.
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The above article is a guest contribution from Kate Simmons, an occasional blogger and student currently pursuing a doctoral degree.