Mind-Eye Institute Founder a ‘Next-Generation Scientist’
Deborah Zelinsky OD and Team Moving Eye Care to ‘Brain Care’
Her patients call her a “next-generation scientist,” a researcher “pushing the limits of knowledge,” a practitioner “ahead of the curve,” one who “thoroughly understands the relationships between mind, brain and body.”
Most importantly, Deborah Zelinsky, OD is known as founder and executive research director of the now internationally renowned Mind-Eye Institute, an outgrowth of a private optometry practice, which Dr. Zelinsky started initially in her home in 1992 and called the Mind-Eye Connection. Since those humble beginnings, the Mind-Eye Institute has gained global recognition for the care of patients and education and training of optometrists worldwide in the emerging fields of neuro-optometry and neuro-optometric rehabilitation.
Dr. Zelinsky’s understanding of how changes in light passing through the retina can affect brain function has proven groundbreaking. It has been key to the Institute’s success in helping many patients recover from symptoms of traumatic brain injury, concussion, stroke and other neurological disorders and in building new visual skills in patients with learning and behavior problems, including autism, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, and dyslexia.
“The retina is comprised of brain tissue and is part of the central nervous system. By altering the way light passes through the retina, we can affect how the brain reacts to information about the environment and modify a person’s spatial awareness, body posture and selective attention to sound,” says Dr. Zelinsky
This mind-eye connection is unique to each person’s processing system and experiences. “Neuro-optometric rehabilitation is a starting point to use this concept of mind-eye testing – versus simply eye testing – to prescribe eyeglasses – ‘brain glasses’ — on a very individualized basis. These therapeutic glasses stimulate the retina in ways that bring sensory systems into synchronization and change a patient’s environment. They enable the patient to achieve a level of comfort that goes far beyond simply improving eyesight clarity to 20/20,” she explains.
Under Dr. Zelinsky’s direction, the Mind-Eye team assesses “visual processing.” 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), meld them with internal sensory signals and then synthesize – process — the information.
“If brain circuitry is out of sync because it has been disrupted by injury or disease, or is under-developed, people can become confused about their surrounding environment, have a narrowed perception and awareness, and exhibit inappropriate reactions and responses or experience difficulties in learning,” Dr. Zelinsky says.
Her patented research in novel uses of retinal stimulation has been described in publications and courses worldwide. She developed the Z-Bell Test®, a simple, but revolutionary, method of checking a patient’s overall perception of surrounding space as well as the patient’s ability to integrate visual awareness with auditory awareness. The test has changed the lives of both pediatric and adult patients by allowing Dr. Zelinsky and her team to prescribe lenses and other optometric appliances that balance the central and peripheral receptors in the retina and improve the interaction between a patient’s eyes and ears.
Dr. Zelinsky’s work is described in the internationally read book, The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back, published in 2015. The book was written by one of Dr. Zelinsky’s patients, Clark Elliott, PhD, a professor of artificial intelligence at DePaul University in Chicago. The book chronicles his recovery from a mild brain injury with the help of the Mind-Eye Institute and Donalee Markus, Ph.D.
Because of her studies of the retina and the retina’s impact on brain function, physiology and mental health, Dr. Zelinsky became the first optometrist ever invited to present at the prestigious N20 World Brain Mapping & Therapeutic Scientific Summit, held in Puerto Madero, Argentina, in November 2018. There, she addressed scientists, physicians and engineers from throughout the world .
Earlier this year (2020), she addressed the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus in Washington, D.C. as a participant in the 9th annual Brain Mapping Briefing, coordinated by The Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics (SBMT) and the Brain Mapping Foundation. She is a board member of the SBMT.
“The entire field of optometry must adapt to advances in brain mapping,” she told Congressmen. “We have to update standard eye care into brain care to keep up with visual changes from using technology.”
Even now, with COVID-19 changing peoples lifestyles, it is common to use advanced technology more and more for school and work, she says.
The current eye evaluation process was developed in the mid-1800s when much of the nation remained unsettled, overland travel was by horseback or horse-drawn wagons, and prairies and mountains dominated individuals’ peripheral sight. This 160-year-old system addresses the clarity of central eyesight by having the patient consciously look at non-moving letters on a chart across a darkened room, but ignores peripheral retinal processing, which comprises an overwhelming percentage of a person’s visual awareness in today’s society, she says.
“Having general awareness of where we are in our environment is highly dependent on peripheral eyesight. Our modern, fast-paced society abounds in moving targets – from signs and lights whizzing past us in traffic to ever-changing GPS navigation screens and words rolling in and out of sight on scrolling web pages. We use peripheral and central eyesight in tandem to scan and shift our gaze from place to place and to assess movement, shape, size, color, contour, and design of objects,” Dr. Zelinsky says.
Interaction of central and peripheral sight pathways in the brain is critical for memory development, planning, organization, decision-making and overall visualization and perception skills, she adds.
“We must primarily consider patient comfort – not simply the 20/20 clarity of a patient’s central eyesight,” Dr. Zelinsky concludes. “Today’s optometrists have many advanced tools to address deficits or imbalances in both central and peripheral eyesight. By using their knowledge to alter the way light disperses across the retina and readjust a patient’s visual balance and eye-ear connections, optometrists can positively affect patients’ external eyesight as well as their internal processing and help patients achieve a level of comfort.
“The Mind-Eye Institute is taking the lead in moving eye care to brain care. Let’s leave 20/20 testing where it belongs – back in the 20th century.”
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Mind-Eye Featured in the News Media
Newspapers and television stations throughout the country have been reporting on the work of the Mind-Eye Institute and its mission to “Leave 20/20 in the 20th Century.” To learn more about what the Mind-Eye Institute is doing to pioneer these changes in optometric evaluations , click here:
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