Help For Adults Through Vision Therapy

by Dr. Leonard Press

At one point in time, vision therapy was considered to be effective only for children. Though the years, we found that adults who were motivated to change their visual performance were able to make changes as profound as those experienced with younger patients.

Although he holds a high administrative position in the School of Optometry at the University of California at Berkeley, Dr. Dennis Levi continues to publish groundbreaking research that is pertinent to vision therapy. His most recent article is on the topic of perceptual learning, which holds great promise for helping us understand some of the dramatic changes that we see in visual performance through therapy.

Here is a quote from the opening paragraph of his most recent paper:

“In vision, as in life, practice improves performance. This “perceptual learning” has been shown to improve contrast detection, orientation discrimination, bisection and Vernier judgements, depth perception, motion detection, texture segregation and pattern recognition. The learning effects are often specific to the trained visual tasks, stimulus attributes, and eye and retinal location. Thus, it has been suggested that the adult brain retains a large degree of neural plasticity.”

Studies such as this have encouraged us to be more aggressive in working with adult vision therapy patients, insights can also be gained that apply to children. In their discussion section of the paper, Dr. Levi and his colleagues report that the improvement in performance through repetitive training on the visual tasks they presented can be mainly attributed to increased efficiency. Repetitive practice boosts the brain’s ability to use relevant visual information more efficiently, thereby improving performance at virtually any age.

While it may be easier to make changes when we are young, vision therapy benefits adults as well. We have learned that even conditions such as strabismus (“inaccurate poor eye teaming”) and amblyopia (“lazy eye”) can be improved into adulthood. In some cases, motivated adults can actually improve more than children because they have a betters feel for the changes occurring through vision therapy. And the changes that occur in one’s life as a result of vision therapy can be profound.

Source: Li RW, Levi DM, Klein SA. Perceptual learning improves efficiency by re-tuning the decision template for position discrimination. Nature Neuroscience 2004;7:178-183.