Traumatic Brain Injury can do some strange things to the eyes. It’s not that the person is blind in the way most people think.
Bill Johnson directs the Visual Impairment Services Outpatient Rehabilitation center at the VA.
“The visual disturbance isn’t your classical loss of visual acuity where you can’t see or experience darkness. It’s the loss of visual field, it’s the loss of visual processing. And it is quite mysterious sometimes.”
For example …
“They may not be able to read. They may be reading one word and then skipping over seven words and then finding another word…The eye is really a part of the brain.”
VA Optometry Doctor Kia Eldred says in cases of traumatic brain injury and stroke, the brain and the eyes don’t communicate properly.
Veteran Edward Johnson suffered a stroke which can also affect the eyes similar to a brain injury. He’s sitting across from a therapist.
“I can see Tonya. I can see most of her right side, but as I get closer to her ear, she starts to disappear.”
It’s not that Johnson’s eyes are blind in that area; it’s a matter of the brain ignoring that part of his vision field. Johnson has a condition known as hemi spatial neglect. The answer in his case is a pair of prism glasses … although, he as another name for them.
“I nick-named them the moo-goo glasses. I use the moo-goo glasses and basically from my understanding is it’s trying to teach my brain to operate with the eyes.”
The prisms jut out from the black-circle rims of the glasses. When on, the vision shifts. Johnson wears the glasses only during therapy. He has to point and touch two Velcro points on a desk.
Tonya Mennem is an occupational therapist at the VA.
“After he takes the glasses off he can read better, he can see all the food on his plate because the brain is now more aware of things on the left side.”
But it’s almost like exercising any other muscle; you have to keep doing it.
In this case, Johnson puts the glasses on for the exercise every couple of weeks. He says not only does he see more area in front of him, he sees more details.
“Little things that you never paid attention to before, you notice. The other doctor I used to work with, I used to always tell her when we were walking, I could see the squirrels in the trees, she would say, where? I would say right over there (laughs).”
Capella Tucker, KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.