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Testing Eye-Ear Connections Can Have Major Health Impact 

Mind-Eye Institute Founder Addresses Leading Scientists at N20 Summit

Early diagnosis of problems in eye-ear coordination can have a major impact on quality of life and lead to quicker intervention for learning disorders and lingering symptoms from brain injuries.  Having eyes and ears synchronized also can benefit people with mood disorders, because an eye-ear mismatch increases overall stress.

That is what Chicago area optometrist Deborah Zelinsky, OD concluded in her presentation to top scientists participating in the N20 (Neuroscience20) World Brain Mapping & Therapeutic Scientific Summit, held virtually in November.  Dr. Zelinsky is founder and executive research director of the Northbrook, Ill.-based Mind-Eye Institute.

The N20 Summit was launched in 2014 as a project of the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics.  It brings together some of the world’s leading scientists in biologics, neurology, neuro-optometry, neuroradiology, neurosurgery, oncology, orthopedics, and psychiatry.  

Dr. Zelinsky was invited to address the N20 Summit because of her globally recognized studies of the retina and her understanding of how changes in the way light disperses across the retina impacts brain function.  The Mind-Eye Institute has achieved significant clinical successes in using therapeutic eyeglasses, lenses or other optometric interventions — Brainwear® — to help patients redevelop visual skills during recovery from debilitating symptoms of brain injuries and other neurological disorders, and develop new skills in those who have been labeled on the autism spectrum and those who have dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

“Research and clinical experience have demonstrated that variations in the amount, intensity and angle of light on the eye changes interpretation of sound location,” Dr. Zelinsky said. “Eyeglasses do much more than help people see.”

She told N20 participants that “when a person has a brain injury, or a neuro-degenerative condition, the interaction between eyes and ears often is disrupted.  Each system still functions, and might pass testing, but what is lacking is an appropriate eye-ear screening.  There is no such assessment in widespread use.”

Despite the technological advances and demands of 21st century society, standard eyesight acuity testing is still where it was more than 150 years ago, Dr. Zelinsky said.  “Eye health assessments have tremendously improved, but peripheral eyesight function has not, and it is the peripheral retina that influences posture, mood regulation, sleep patterns, and other physiological systems.”

Early diagnosis of problems in eye-ear coordination can have a major, positive impact on quality of life, she said.  “Eye-ear coordination develops in a similar way to eye-hand coordination. But, if eye-ear integration fails to develop fully or properly, then a person might struggle with learning-related problems,” she said.

Children have eyes and ears tested separately, and then they are placed in classrooms under the assumption that, if eyes and ears individually function, the child is able to use them together.  However, 22 percent of children with learning disabilities have visual processing problems, including eye-ear disconnects, said Dr. Zelinsky. 

“That is why early screening for eye-ear issues is so critical,” she continued.  “The trajectory of many children’s lives can be changed, while the amount of money allocated for special education is reduced.”

In Illinois alone, approximately $8,000 in special-education funds is spent per child annually.  “If we could identify eye-ear integration problems in 100 children by third grade, the state would save approximately $4 million during those children’s remaining years in elementary school and junior high,” Dr. Zelinsky said. “Five hundred children not requiring special education would save $20 million.”

She is calling for expansion of the current eye testing required by governments and schools to include eye-ear integration and, in the United States, the establishment of a new medical billing (CPT) code to allow insurance reimbursement for brief eye-ear screenings.  A first step would be to allow optometrists to receive reimbursements through current occupational therapy codes for providing more thorough assessments of sensory integration.

Eye screenings have varied little since1839 when Ulysses S. Grant entered West Point, Dr. Zelinsky emphasized in her presentation.  

“The 20/20 standard eye evaluation was developed in 1862 and still involves simply sharpening central eyesight using a non-moving, high-contrast target, namely letters on a chart located across a darkened room.  We must update that paradigm to include evaluation of visual processing of moving targets and eye-ear interactions,” she said.  “Such screening is necessary for early detection of sensory processing issues in order to mitigate problems and enhance brain function.  Brainwear® glasses can help optometrists have a positive impact on perceptual impairments and people’s lives.”

Results of the participating scientists’ N20 discussions on topics, including the brain, spinal cord, neurodegenerative diseases, and mental health, are to be presented to global political leaders who attended the November 2020 G20 Summit.  The goal is to make world leaders aware of the necessity to change global health policies.

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