Veterans and First Responders
Mind-Eye Institute Aiding Recovery from Brain, Blast Injuries and PTSD
Traumatic brain injury (TBI), blast injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are among key health issues impacting returning military veterans and affecting the quality of their lives. Although types of injury differ, the resulting symptoms tend to be similar because they all derive from traumatized brain circuitry that has become dysfunctional. Many brain connections can be disrupted.
Recovery often proves difficult because each person’s brain is different. Unlike the repair and rehabilitation of structures such as a fractured foot or damaged shoulder joint, no cookie-cutter approaches to recovery are available for disrupted brain circuitry. Brain injuries affect a person’s functions, and those functions vary depending on a patient’s developed levels of skill prior to injury. Magnetic resonance imaging is unable to display whether or not a patient’s “visual processing” is intact.
The term “visual processing” refers to the brain’s almost-instantaneous ability (partially beneath a conscious level of awareness) to take in external sensory signals (from eyesight, hearing, smell, taste and touch) and meld them with a person’s internal sensory signals and memories before processing the information. Reactions and responses to one’s environment depend on memories. When functioning normally, visual processing enables people to understand and interact appropriately to the world around them. When brain circuitry is out of sync due to injury or neurological disorders, people can become confused about their surrounding environment.
A patient with disrupted brain pathways might likely be told by a medical professional, “You’re fine,” and then sent home because diagnostic tests indicate the structures of the eye appear normal.
Veterans have unique circumstances, in which they are often under constant fear because of vivid memories attached to sounds and sights. For instance, a person used to IED explosions might jump in a grocery store parking lot just by hearing someone loudly slam down a car trunk.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)/Blast Injuries
Injury to the brain can disrupt its electrical and chemical circuitry, throwing sensory systems like sight and hearing out of synchronization. The injury also may affect emotional circuitry.
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Signs and Symptoms
• Balance issues
• Light and sound sensitivity
• Headache, nausea, vertigo
• Problems reading or writing
• Irritability, decreased motivation
• Cognitive deficits: memory loss, confusion
• Abnormal reactions to normal stimuli and situations
• Mental alterations: depression, emotional problems
• Physical changes, affecting appetite, sleep, body chemistry
Brain-injured patients oftentimes feel they are not “back to their old life;” they are no longer the person they once were. They have lost their “Who Am I” and become transformed by the experience, according to author, Louise Mathewson, writing in her book A Life Interrupted. She aptly states that TBI should be renamed. Instead of “traumatic brain injury,” it should be termed “transformed by injury.”
Veterans all have experiences in which survival depends on the retina’s peripheral eyesight system and its ability to detect movement. In dangerous situations, peripheral eyesight is in a constantly heightened state of alert. The veteran who develops post-traumatic stress disorder suffers from many dysfunctions, including a peripheral retinal system that has become dysfunctional, working on overload at a subconscious level. This type of patient is always in fight-or-flight mode, reacting abnormally to sudden changes in sensory stimuli. Sensory inputs also link uncontrollably to emotional memories. That is why a veteran may react or respond abnormally to changes in movement, sounds or light in the surrounding environment. Seeing a car moving in a parking lot, for example, may trigger memories of a fellow soldier blown up by a similar vehicle.
Common signs/symptoms of PTSD include:
• Anger outbursts
• Higher levels of stress
• Insomnia, unusual dreams
• Mental and physical exhaustion
• Changes in perception and cognition
• Spatial dysfunction and disorientation
The patient diagnosed with PTSD often has a chronically altered visual world where the external peripheral eyesight becomes hypersensitized or tuned out, and the internal logical thought processes diminish. The result is a much more limited spatial environment.
Case Study 1
A police officer – first responder – developed PTSD in his mid-twenties, remained on the police force and then suffered a traumatic brain injury a year later while attempting to arrest a suspect. When stressed, his eyesight would shift from hazy to black. He experienced nightmares, bouts of irritability and anger, abnormal behavior and intolerance to perception of light (photophobia). After extensive testing at the Mind-Eye Institute, the patient was prescribed a set of therapeutic lenses that angled light downwards on his retinas and had a slight tint. This change in light angle shifted processing to specific parts of his brain, avoiding other (less efficient) portions. The tint filtered out certain incoming wavelengths of light. Wearing those customized eyeglasses enabled the patient to process environmental stimuli more normally. His photophobia resolved, he no longer had nightmares, and his temper tantrums lessened significantly. He stopped punching and lashing out at night, and, during the day, his “brain” glasses changed his spatial awareness through both auditory and visual sensory systems. Two years later, the patient “graduated” to a different set of lenses to accommodate the positive alterations occurring in his brain-signaling pathways. He is now more comfortable in his life.
At the Mind-Eye Institute
We use the advanced technology and testing techniques of neuro-optometric rehabilitation to examine patients thoroughly — fully measuring their visual performance, visual processing capabilities and sensory integration with other body systems. With this information, Institute experts assess how light might be manipulated to positively impact each patient’s visual processing and can recommend tailored exercises to enhance overall visual performance. The goal is to find optimal ways of mitigating symptoms that have not improved or resolved through standard approaches.
Specifically, our Institute team offers patients prescriptive eyeglasses, contact lenses or other optometric interventions to::
Maximize visual performance and processing by creating a stable balance between auditory and visual localization.
Improve perception of the surrounding environment in order to modify behavior and enhance communication skills.
Help rebuild brain pathways or develop new pathways that enhance the ability to learn, understand and interact with others with less effort.
Getting In Touch With Us
To find out the next steps of registering as a patient or registering a child as a patient, please call the Mind•Eye Institute office at 847.501.2020 or you can fill out our online New Patient Inquiry Form on the right.
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'Dr. Zelinsky Is Renowned'
~ Norman Doidge, M.D. & Clark Elliott, Ph.D., Dr. Patrick Quaid and Patricia S. Lemer praise her accomplishments:
"Zelinsky fit Elliott with a series of eyeglasses designed to improve the perceptual damage that made his life so difficult... Getting fitted for Zelinsky's eyeglasses is like no eye appointment you've ever had... Now, Elliott says, he is almost entirely symptom-free, able to problem-solve, multi-task and find his way easily — all abilities he lost in the auto accident in 1999. When he put on his Phase VI glasses he felt something that he hadn't felt for years: "I felt normal."
Review: 'The Ghost in My Brain'
- The Chicago Tribune
"One brilliant Chicago-area optometrist I know, Deborah Zelinsky OD, FNORA, FCOVD, has developed a unique, patented, easy-to-administer evaluation called the Z-Bell Test. This test measures the efficiency of integration between visual processing and listening....A 2014 study at Vanderbilt University found that children with autism do not synchronize their seeing and hearing...I have watched Dr. Zelinsky administer this test to disbelieving colleagues, who were astounded by its accuracy and results...Over the past two decades, the Z-Bell Test has become internationally recognized by the scientific community.”
- Patricia S. Lemer, Licensed Profesional Counselor (LPC)
"I visited Dr. Zelinsky, and she showed me how she can use optical lenses to alter sensory filtering, by directing light to different retinal cells and brain circuits. This can influence activity in the brain and the hypothalamus to better regulate body chemistry, sensory integration, and even some auditory processing. [Dr. Zelinsky] works frequently with patients working with learning and cognitive disorders as well as TBIs."
- Norman Doidge, M.D.
"I was delighted to have Dr. Zelinsky personally contribute to the book. Her wealth of knowledge in the area of visual development and visual processing is widely known, not just through her contribution of eye-care to the author of “The Ghost in My Brain”, but also via her Mind-Eye Institute and the lectures and training their provide. Dr. Zelinsky is not just college and a friend, but also a valued member of the neuro-optometric community and an invaluable bridge to other allied professions treating brain injuries. Her contribution to the book is deeply appreciated."
- Dr. Patrick Quaid, MCOptom, FCOVD, PhD
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