Our vision is our most dominant sense, which we probably all know. What I didn’t know or realise, was how important our vision is and how often visual problems coincide with brain injury.
According to research 80-85% of our perception, learning, cognition and activities are mediated through our vision. So it’s not just the seeing of an object, but also to process what you see, to attach meaning and responding to it. Our brain plays an important role in all this. As vision and the brain are so entwined, a large percentages of people with a brain injury also have visual disorders.
Though I wonder how aware the medical community is of this. In my case it took some time before I received the help I needed.
I don’t remember everything of that first week in the hospital after my accident, but I do remember that I was seeing double all the time. The image from my right eye is higher and has shifted slightly to the right, compared to the image of my left eye. Which I’ve tried to mimic in the picture below.
Quite tiresome, right? I would often close one eye, to preserve energy and to make the world less confusing. Still a couple of weeks passed by, before I got send to a specialist for further research.
In the mean time I resorted to eye patches. Double vision not only was tiring, it made everything much more difficult. The side-walk outside turned into an obstacle course as my depth perception was off and I always forgot which image corresponded with reality. Reading or watching television was very confusing and exhausting. I simply saw too much. When I was speaking to someone I kept hoping I was looking into someone’s actual eyes and wasn’t speaking to their forehead.
It was a relief when, almost one year later, I finally got my prism in eye glasses. At last I saw the world single again. I had to resign myself to having to wear glasses for the rest of my life, or so I thought.
Fast forward to two and a half years later. I’d discovered a podcast ‘Adventures in brain injury’ by Cavin Balaster and would listen to episodes in my lunch break. While enjoying a warm day and sitting outside on a bench, I listened to an interview with a vision therapist. According to the interview vision therapy could, among other thing, help with double vision. I got really excited and couldn’t wait to learn more. The following weekend I went online to learn more about vision therapy.
I discovered that the goal of vision therapy is, to retrain learned aspects of vision through neuroplasticity. Sounds good doesn’t it? In the interview the College of Optometrists in Vision Development was mentioned, whose website had more information and a helpful ‘locate a doctor’ feature. After more reading, I decided to make an appointment to give it a try.
The idea that I could actually do something gave a sense of hope. Hope that things could get better, even after rehabilitation. To be given tools and exercises to stimulate your brain to make new connections made me feel more in control.
With vision therapy you follow a program (under supervision) tailored to your visual needs. Besides the therapy you also get certain exercises to do at home. It does require effort, but I quickly start noticing a difference.
I realised that I wasn’t only seeing double, I also wasn’t as aware of my surroundings. My peripheral vision (when you look at a certain pint, you’ll see a -less clear- area around that point, that’s your peripheral vision) was smaller. So I would often bump into things, as I overlooked them or misjudged their location.
Since the therapy, I finally had weeks where I didn’t walk into the door post or table. Cycling through the city also became less stressful. Before I would have to consciously move my eyes left to right, in order to avoid running over pedestrians in the city centre. Now I would notice them already in my peripheral vision and was less surprised by suddenly ‘appearing’ people (or cars).
Through the exercises my double vision slowly reduced over time. I think I’ve had twelve of these sessions now and for the third time I’ll get lower prism power in my glasses. I can now even read a book without glasses or go swimming, without seeing double! I can’t manage an entire day without my glasses (yet), but hopefully my brain will be able to do some more rewiring in the coming months.
I wouldn’t have found out that this was possible or even existed without that podcast. I can only speak form my experience, but in my case it has certainly helped.
The links in this post go to sites with more information.