More then meets the eye
The Mind-Eye Connection
“My guest today is Dr. Deborah Zelinsky, O.D.”
Joan Brunwasser: My guest today is Dr. Deborah Zelinsky, OD, of the Mind-Eye Institute. Welcome to OpEdNews, Deborah. Let’s start with the basics. What is the Mind-Eye Connection?
Deborah Zelinsky: Mind-Eye Institute is the name of my optometric practice in Northbrook, Illinois, which was founded in 1992. The name refers to the relationship and interconnections between the eye and the brain. The lining of the eye, the retina, is an actual piece of brain tissue. It is not simply something that is connected to the brain. My mentor, optometrist, Dr. Albert Sutton, taught me that the eye is not only part of the brain, but serves as a two-way highway for signals transmitted from the body to the eyes and from the eyes to the mind and body. Conventional eye testing emphasizes critically important eye health and clarity of central eyesight.
However, once the health practitioner has determined that a patient’s eyes are healthy, and eyesight is clear when looking at non-moving, high-contrast targets (such as letters on a chart), the next step should be a thorough evaluation of the mind-eye connection to assess brain function. Our Mind-Eye Institute is known internationally for the unique way we successfully treat patients of all ages. Many of those patients come to our office as a last resort, unable to be helped with traditional eye care methods. We see patients with learning problems, autism, developmental delays, attention problems, brain injury, concussions, mental health disorders, neurological impairments, legal blindness, and other types of brain dysfunctions.
JB: You deal with quite a wide range of issues; I had no idea! Apparently, there’s a whole lot more going on than we once thought. How do you go about evaluating a patient’s mind-eye connection after covering the basics of eye health? What are you looking for?
DZ: After the basics of eye health and central eyesight, comprehensive assessments at the Mind-Eye Institute include an additional five main elements: 1) the use of peripheral eyesight and how it combines with central (20/20) eyesight (conventional testing assesses EXISTENCE of peripheral eyesight, but not its function), 2) subconscious eye movement ability (being able to put eyes on “auto-pilot” when thinking), 3) stability of the auditory-visual linkage (critical in reading, learning and social skills), 4) adaptability to visual changes (how individuals respond to shifts in surrounding space) and 5) reaction time. This provides us with a bigger picture of brain processing. Currently, we have three other optometrists here in addition to myself — Dr. Parres Wright, Dr. Daniel Nast and Dr. Grace Yoon. Dr. Yoon is about to move to southern California and evaluate Mind-Eye patients there.
For thirty years, the Mind-Eye Institute has served patients from national and international locations, assessing peripheral eyesight in addition to central (20/20) eyesight. Children with special needs or those on the autistic spectrum, benefit from having Mind-Eye eyeglass prescriptions, which evaluate whether brain signals are being processed efficiently in a synchronized manner. For instance, eyeglass prescriptions determined by using our patented Z-Bell testing helps synchronize eye-ear connections. Those Z-Bell prescriptions enhance patients’ reading, listening and attention in a majority of cases. The individualized glasses create a stable balance between central and peripheral eyesight, as well as auditory and visual localization ability.
The rods and cones in the eye — cells that react to light — have been researched for close to 200 years. However, in 2002, a new cell type was discovered in the retina — one, which also reacts to light, but receives its information indirectly from both internal sources, such as the body’s thyroid function, as well as from external light sources. For instance, if a body is under stress, chemical information is transmitted to these specific eye cells, resulting in either a shutdown or a sustained hypersensitivity of the peripheral eyesight as a protective mechanism. This is why many people complain of light sensitivity after a brain injury — each peripheral retina is hypersensitive. Research shows that in some mental disorders, a hypersensitivity to changes in lighting develops. For instance, many patients can not fall asleep if lights are on in a bedroom. Being able to filter out the light helps them.
JB: There’s lots to talk about here. Through your comprehensive eye examination, you are able to evaluate, for instance, whether the eyes and ears are synchronized. Aren’t our eyes and ear always in sync? And if not, what happens when they’re not?
DZ: No, they are not always in sync. After twenty-four years of working with eye/ear connections, we find that more than 20 percent of people don’t have solid synchronization of their auditory and visual signals. In fact, just asking people in this group what happens inside their heads while they are reading can elicit interesting — and different — answers. Some of these people visualize book characters; others hear the characters; still others hear a narration (rather than the actual characters) with no visual image. They either watch or listen, but cannot easily do both. They will often miss social cues that entail body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and content of voice.
We find that when eyes and ears are not working as a team, problems arise in processing the environment, which includes reading. Sometimes, the eyes and ears are synchronized, but the connection is fragile, meaning it is easily disrupted. Individuals with such connective fragility either must study in total silence, because they are unable to filter out background noises, or they study with background noise, because their minds wander when they cannot hear any other extraneous sounds in their environment.
The brain uses environmental clues to assess where objects are located. Those clues from the sensory systems, such as eyes and ears, need to coordinate. Therefore, it is essential for the eyes and ears to communicate. If eyes and ears don’t interact well, the environment becomes scary and people often avoid it. For instance, we have an autistic patient who would always cling to his mother or stay on the floor, not wanting to go anywhere. After receiving his first pair of eyeglasses, he ran around and enjoyed going outdoors. His central eyesight was 20/20, yet he still needed glasses for his peripheral eyesight.
Another example of orienting to the environment was a blind student I remember from college, whose friends enjoyed tricking him by moving the audio speakers around in their dormitory room. When the blind student visited his friends’ dorm room, he would stumble, because he had to re-orient himself to the speakers’ new locations; his motor planning was based on expectations, which, in turn, were based on previous experiences. His ears could easily orient him to surroundings, but not when the sound sources were moved around.
The concussion patients we evaluate are out of sync very frequently. The analogy is like that of an orchestra playing poorly. Something is wrong with the music, yet each instrument and musician are fine on their own. If the conductor directs the cellos to play faster and the bassoons to play slower, all of a sudden the music sounds beautiful. They were out of sync and easily fixed. When we see patients who have been to different doctors, and each piece of them is fine yet they don’t feel like themselves, we use eyeglasses to selectively speed up some signals and/or mute others, allowing them to regain efficient functioning.
JB: Your comments raise so many questions. Don’t people function fairly well even without a stable eye-ear connection? Just needing to study in silence doesn’t seem terribly disabling. Are there other, more serious ramifications from a less-than-stable eye-ear connection? And, how would people know they were suffering from that if that’s all they’ve ever known?
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DZ: Yes, there are more serious conditions. Adults and children who have unstable eye/ear connections are burdened with conscious, often confusing energy-draining decisions, that people with solid eye/ear connections make subconsciously and effortlessly. They are labeled as visual processing problems, or motivation problems or concentration or attention deficit disorder, etc. People can compensate by simply listening, while missing visual cues, such as body language and facial expressions. If people compensate by watching, they will be missing subtle cues of tone of voice and detailed nuances of words. Some people shift between listening and watching. This constant shifting creates fatigue, causing them to miss details, but comprehend the gist of a conversation or lecture. In school, however, testing is often about the details. People don’t necessarily know they have a problem. They just tell me that they don’t “get” the punchlines of jokes quickly, that they are not up to par with social skills, or that they find it too difficult to learn from a lecture unless they can read about the subject on their own.
JB: Your work has really caught on in Europe. I recently attended a seminar that you organized. Among the attendees were three optometrists from Austria, as well as all kinds of practitioners who were in some way integrating the mind-eye connection into their work. Why do you think optometrists in Europe have been so much faster to catch on to the value of your work?
DZ: I’ve taught in Spain, Belgium, France, Denmark, Greece, Austria, Germany, as well as in Canada and Australia. European optometry is different from American optometry; it is typically testing for clear eyesight, fitting contact lenses, and diagnosing diseases that must be referred to a medical specialist for follow-up. The medical doctors — not the optometrists — in Europe are primarily involved in eye health. Many optometrists in Europe realize that the eye does much more than simply see, and they have taken additional courses in such non-invasive visual processing subcategories as neuro-optometric rehabilitation. In America, optometrists are taught how to actually treat eye diseases — not just diagnose them. We are considered physicians from an insurance company perspective and are able to write prescriptions, even for oral medications. The eye is looked at as an organ that sees, and assessments are not necessarily inclusive of brain processing.
JB: What about the other more local practitioners? Give us an idea of what they do and how they integrate mind-eye to enhance their work, please.
DZ: At this point, we are just beginning a program to certify doctors to integrate patented mind-eye concepts into their practices. The optometric part will be in Chicago this July, with information on our website about the upcoming Mind-Eye Campus. The basic point is that typical eye examinations for 20/20 testing emphasize the ability to see non-moving, high-contrast targets, such as dark letters on a white background. Testing is done while the patients are seated. In reality, academic and social environments, sports — in fact, all of life — require us to assess moving targets more quickly than stationary ones. We also have to use our eyes not only when the target is moving, but often times when we are moving as well.
Mind-eye testing evaluates all of these aspects. The certification program offers two tracks. One is for eye doctors to learn an updated way of prescribing for stability of the eye-ear connections and internal comfort; the other is for ancillary professionals to learn how to screen for the presence of eye-ear disconnections, and if need, refer to the appropriate Mind-Eye certified practitioner. Locally, our office (myself and Drs. Wright, Yoon and Nast) tests for eye/ear disconnections. Drs. Neil Margolis, Monica Spokas, Lindsey Stull and Ryan Edwards are involved in the certification process for evaluating eye-ear integration and synchronization. Our goal is to make people understand that 20/20 should be left in the twentieth century; it is an insufficient benchmark for visual processing. This new field of study is called neurophotonics. I have a chapter in the upcoming “Textbook of Neurophotonics and Brain Mapping”, and a published case study in the Journal of Neurophotonics, showing a normalization of brainwaves once customized eyeglasses were worn.
JB: Your work has gained recognition due to the recent publication of The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity. The author, Dr. Norman Doidge, is a well-respected psychiatrist, researcher and New York Times best-selling author of The Brain that Changes Itself, a fascinating read, which has sold more than 1,000,000 copies to date. Dr. Doidge mentions your work in the afterword of his latest book. That must have been gratifying. What did he have to say about what you do?
DZ: Yes, I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet Dr. Doidge for dinner and a marvelous discussion regarding theories on brain function. I agree with his philosophy and greatly admire his work.
Norman Doidge, M.D. is a consummate professional whose words so aptly explain what the Mind-Eye Institute does. He states, “Optometry can also be used to rewire the brain…Optical lenses can alter sensory filtering…influencing brain activity that regulates body chemistry, sensory integration and even some auditory processing.”
JB: Another new book showcases your work on a more personal level. This one is by Prof. Clark Elliott, The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back. What can you tell us about it?
DZ: Clark Elliott, Ph.D. is an incredible individual, who spent eight frustrating years trying to regain normal function following a car accident. He was told by doctors that concussions create residual symptoms and that he would just have to learn to live with them. Eventually, he was referred to the Mind-Eye Institute by Dr. Donalee Markus for collaboration and received a series of prescriptive lenses that helped rewire his brain. He is now symptom-free. Dr. Markus and I have successfully worked together with many patients for the past twenty years and are presenting a four-hour workshop together at a national rehabilitation convention this fall.
JB: Lovely. I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Clark Elliott at your seminar and interviewing him. His book, now out in paperback and audio) is an amazing chronicle of the aftermath of his accident and his journey, with the help of Dr. Markus and you, to put his life back together. I understand that his book is now out in paperback. That’s good. I recently saw the film, Concussion, starring Will Smith. It tells the story of a doctor who discovers a link between football and brain injury. Did you see it? Your thoughts?
DZ: Yes, Dr. Elliott’s book is out in both paperback and audio format now, in addition to hardcover and a Kindle version. The doctor featured in the movie, Concussion, is Bennet Omalu. He was magnificently portrayed by Will Smith’s incomparable performance. I was fortunate enough to listen to Dr. Omalu speak at the World Brain Mapping Conference this year. His powerful presentation described how important it was to search for the root cause of a disorder and practice preventive care. He was 32 years old when he discovered the unnamed brain disease that he coined Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). He is very humble, saying that, if he had not done it, someone else would have discovered the similarities between brains of football players and boxers. At a social event for the brain mapping group, I gave him a copy of Dr. Elliott’s book and told him about my discovery of the link between visual and auditory functions when I was also 32 years old. I feel the same way as he does. If not I, someone at some point would have discovered that eyeglasses affect auditory localization ability. For instance, when a cell phone rings, some people just turn and answer it, others have to hunt around visually for it, because they can’t pinpoint its exact location by only the ringing.
JB: Anything that you’d like to add before we wrap this up?
DZ: While the potentially devastating effects of concussion have been very much in the news, the topic of recent editorials and books and the subject of public focus, dyslexia is also a major problem — perhaps as important as concussion — and one that the Mind-Eye Connection is passionate in trying to eradicate. Research shows that dyslexia is not necessarily an eye or ear problem, but rather a disorder that causes difficulties in the processing of language. Language processing relies on both auditory and visual signaling pathways in the brain. Now, in my free time, I’m researching biochemical changes that occur in the brain and body from the use of eyeglasses altering retinal (brain) processing. That should keep me busy for the next several decades. It is so gratifying to be able to help people function better. Whatever the case may be — being involved in each person’s healing process is a rewarding endeavor.
JB: It’s been a pleasure talking with you, Deborah; I’ve learned so much along the way. You’re doing fascinating and important work. Thank you.
Dr. Zelinsky’s website: MindEyeInstitue.com
Thank you, Margo Rush, for suggesting this story.
Thanks, MAB, OEN’s managing editor extraordinaire, for your editorial and creative support and ingenuity!
'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 colleague 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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