‘Brain’ Glasses Play Critical Role in Recovery from PTSD
Retina Has Major Impact on Brain Function, Mind-Eye Founder Says
Use of therapeutic “brain” eyeglasses to modify the frequency, amount and direction of light on the retina can often help accelerate recovery from symptoms of brain injury or chronic stress levels, including post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). The glasses also can sometimes improve patient comfort and range of tolerance to environmental changes and decrease hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli.
So, states Deborah Zelinsky, OD, FNORA, FCOVD, founder and executive research director of the Mind-Eye Institute in Northbrook, Ill.
“Classic, standard optometric techniques to sharpen a person’s central eyesight to 20/20 only impact a patient’s attention at a conscious level, with high-contrast, non-moving targets. This approach is usually insufficient in patients with neurodegenerative conditions or the kinds of fragile connections between external and internal systems as occurs in PTSD,” says Dr. Zelinsky.
She is internationally known for her work involving the retina’s impact on brain function. For the past 30 years, she has devoted her career to neuro-optometric rehabilitation and development of advanced methods for assessing brain function, with emphasis on the often-untested linkage between eye and ears.
PTSD is a mental disorder that can keep a patient’s mind and body systems in a hypersensitized “fight-or-flight-or-freeze” mode. Common PTSD symptoms include changes in perception and cognition, which, in turn, cause abnormal reactions to the environment. Awareness and attention are affected. A person with PTSD can suffer from spatial dysfunction and disorientation. His or her visual world typically constricts because peripheral eyesight becomes either hypersensitized or suppressed. The patient fails to pick up all surrounding environmental cues, expends more mental and physical energy to make “sense of everything,” becomes “wiped out” and eventually finds it easier to “tune out.”
This struggle to understand the environment can lead to depression, irritability, outbursts of anger, irrational behavior, and sleep problems, including nightmares. Biochemical changes also occur in response to disruptions in awareness. Stress chemicals are at higher levels, promoting a PTSD patient’s chronic state of survival.
In a relatively recent case, a veteran diagnosed with PTSD was prescribed a set of therapeutic tinted lenses — Brainwear™ — by Dr. Zelinsky and the Mind-Eye team, after undergoing comprehensive neuro-optometric rehabilitative testing. His specific eyeglass prescription angled light downwards on his retinas. Wearing the customized lenses eventually enabled the veteran to better process environmental stimuli. His photophobia – intolerance to visual perception of light — disappeared, his nightmares were gone, his anger outbursts decreased significantly, Dr. Zelinsky reports.
“The lenses changed the patient’s spatial awareness and the link between his auditory and visual sensory systems,” says Dr. Zelinsky. “Therapeutic glasses affect brain function.”
Research has demonstrated the retina is a piece of brain tissue that is part of our body’s central nervous system. It not only sends the brain environmental signals obtained through eyesight, but also registers luminance levels (external light) dispersed across the retina. Concurrently, the retina receives feedback signals from the body through informational pathways in the brain. This continuing process of feeding environmental signals forward for further brain processing while receiving feedback signals from various brain structures makes the retina a two-way portal for influencing and monitoring body functions and thought processes, primarily below the level of consciousness, explains Dr. Zelinsky.
Each eye contains approximately 126 million light-sensitive receptors. Input information from these receptors moves through a sophisticated filtering system, resulting in some 1.2 million signals traveling across and radiating out from the optic nerve into electrical pathways inside the brain. In fact, the retina connects with many systems other than eyesight, including various structures in the brain’s cortex, cerebellum and limbic system, as well as midbrain and brainstem, Dr. Zelinsky states.
The role of neuro-optometric rehabilitation as a non-invasive approach to brain function and visual and neurological disorders continues growing in importance, Dr. Zelinsky emphasizes. “Using different lenses, prisms, mirrors, filters and other optometric interventions to stimulate the retina allows eye professionals now trained in advanced neuro-optometric techniques to evaluate possible hidden dysfunctions in mind-eye connections and neurologic disruptions that can impact a person’s social, academic — even sports – performance.
“By bending light in different ways across the retina, we can alter incoming visual signals and change informational pathways in the brain, thereby modifying and enhancing overall brain function,” she adds.
“Eye testing is shifting from 20/20 eye acuity to ‘brain testing.’ The 20/20 system of eye examination needs an update; it’s over 150 years old,” Dr. Zelinsky concludes. “We need to leave 20/20 in the 20th century.”
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