Brain Training Improves Vision without Glasses

No one likes to wear glasses. I got my first pair in 3rd grade, upgrading frames every decade since then. As time has gone by, my vision has worsened. As the eye ages, the lenses harden, making it harder for eye muscles to bend them to focus. Presbyopia, difficulty in reading small print, increases every five years after age 30. It affects nearly all adults by age 50.  This decline in vision is dangerous, causing falls and auto accidents due to impaired depth perception.

A new form of brain retraining may slow this age-related loss of focus, as well as the need for reading glasses. There are various smartphone apps that improve vision, while GlassesOff is the only one backed by scientific studies. The training has a person look at Gabor patches, images that stimulate the part of brain responsible for vision. During the training, the spacing of images is varied, contrast turned down, and flashed for fractions of a second. These type of exercises done hundreds of times over multiple weekly sessions for months decreases presbyopia. Similar training is also effective in treating lazy eye (amblyopia). None of these improvements are due to changes in the eye itself, but in the brain.

Perceptual learning can improve the vision of younger people with normal-age sight as well. A study published in Psychological Science looks at older adults about age 70 who were trained on Gabor patch exercises 1.5hrs each day for a week. Their ability to see low-contrast images improved to that of college-aged people.

How does the brain process images? The initial image is taken in through the eye and different sets of neurons in the brain process features separately. It assembles these features into recognizable objects. In normal reading, the brain has 250 milliseconds to do this while the eyes move on to the next letter or word. Visual processing is challenged by busy images, low contrast, and closely spaced information (small fonts). Enhancing and speeding up the processing of images through perceptual learning improves many vision functions.

Training with GlassesOff costs $24.99 for three months, then $60 per year after that. Due to the hard work and cost involved, the market for reading glasses will remain strong.

Frakt, Austin. “Training Your Brain So That You Don’t Need Reading Glasses.” Upshot. The New York Times, 27 Mar 2017. Web. 30 Mar 2017.

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