Beyond Glasses | General Wellness | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Beyond Glasses 

Last Updated: 08/13/2013 4:40 pm

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Improving your vision is truly possible. Vision therapy is a part of the integrative vision approach, in which the doctor prescribes a plan of activities to do at home and in weekly sessions with a trained vision therapist. Vision therapy has been proven to help people with such problems as lazy eye, crossed eyes, double vision, near- and far-sightedness, age-related vision decline, brain-injury vision changes, sports-related vision problems, and reading and learning disabilities. The strategy may use special tools such as therapeutic lenses, prisms, optical filters, or eye patches, along with exercises and games designed to improve visual skills and information processing.

Nancy Neff of Fishkill says she was sure she would grow up blind. “I got glasses when I was five,” she says, “and they just got stronger and stronger my whole life. Everyone in my family had glasses, and students in school all had glasses like me, so I figured that’s just the way it is.” But she was inspired by one of Grossman’s public talks and decided to try his approach to improving vision. It included using her glasses less, which wasn’t easy. “You take your glasses off and you feel helpless,” she says. “I run every day, and doing that without the glasses in the beginning was really challenging. I used to say hello to the mailboxes!” But it worked. “Slowly, you break that addiction, and go to weaker glasses for things that aren’t that challenging. Now, I do almost everything without my glasses. I’ve turned it around. It’s like I’m rewinding time.”

Neff is a natural vision educator who now helps others, coaching them through vision therapy prescribed by an integrative vision care doctor. “One of the things I emphasize most strongly is that it’s not really just exercises where you struggle and strain. It’s about good, healthy vision habits,” she explains. “It’s like good posture—you want to do it all day long.” Until recently, there hasn’t been any attention paid to visual hygiene, she says. “Most problems come from strain and bad habits over the years. We do things like stare at a computer for six hours straight without looking up, and never blink. If you wear glasses, they train your eyes not to move because they force you to look straight ahead. That reduces peripheral vision awareness. Healthy eyes are sparkling because of tiny little movements all the time, scanning the environment.”

Mark Girard, who is farsighted (sees distances better than close up), wanted to improve his vision. “As an artist and avid reader,” says Girard, “I find that most of the things I look at are fairly close, and my eyes were accustomed to that.” Through his integrative vision consultation, Girard learned that changing his visual habits could naturally improve his vision. “I found that if I looked off at distant objects every few minutes, say, by looking up and out the window at birds as I was drawing, I could really feel my eyes working,” he recalls. “I also spent more time doing things without my glasses.” Through that process, he markedly reduced the strength of the glasses he now uses.

Never say inevitable
During my appointment with Grossman, standard eyesight tests confirmed the over-40 age-related blur of things up close. Yes, he said, people generally experience some loss of lens flexibility with age. But instead of encouraging me to use the reading glasses I already have, he counseled that, “If you use reading glasses, they do the work for you. If you go back to trying to read without them, it’s even blurrier.” I’ve noticed that, which makes me shy away from using them.

Next, he handed me a pair of glasses and a page to read. The glasses made it even blurrier than it was without my glasses. “Those are ‘opposite glasses,’” he explained. “You are farsighted. So I’ve given you nearsighted glasses. He then had me do some vision exercises while wearing them: focusing on my finger close up for about a minute, then on the distant wall, and then repeating this alternation of focus for several minutes. Then I took off the glasses and looked at the page. I could read it more easily (without any glasses) than before the exercises. Then he had me put on the reading glasses I had brought. They were much stronger. “If you get used to these opposite glasses [by doing similar exercises regularly], your eyes should get better,” he explained. “It’s a big part of the exercises I do with patients.”

The eyeball team

Visual acuity is only a part of what gives us good vision. An integrative vision doctor will check other essential components of seeing. One is teaming: how well the two eyes work together to focus on something. Another is tracking: how well the eyes follow a moving object, or scan across something like lines of print while reading. Problems in those areas are often overlooked in a standard eye exam, but can have powerful repercussions in school or a workplace.

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