Odd glasses provide brain therapy

April 17, 2009 11:00:32 AM PDT
The number of US troops returning home with traumatic brain injuries has risen over the past few years. Experts say 60-70% of those also have some type of visual issue that impacts their ability to see. But a new use for some old technology is helping some of those veterans regain their independence.Marine Corporal Steven Schulz suffered traumatic brain injury during a second tour of duty in Iraq. The injuries affected his vision. He suffers from hemi-spatial neglect -- a condition where patients ignore part of their vision because of a lesion in the visual processing section of the brain.

"Because of the brain injury, I don't see a lot of stuff on my left," he explained.

Steven's mother Debbie Schulz said, "When he's walking and I'm shadowing him, he'll absolutely run into people if they're like just on his left."

But now some cutting edge technology at the DeBakey VA Medical Center is helping veterans like Steven regain some of their independence. Doctors say some odd-looking prism glasses re-train the brains of patients. Dr. Kia Eldred says wearing the goggles a couple times a day can help a patient correct the problem.

"When they take the glasses off after doing this exercise, they then start being more aware of the left side of space," Dr. Eldred said. "It's like they're over-correcting back to the left."

Steven has been using them a couple of months and has already noticed a difference.

"I'm seeing more of my world around me," he said. "It's helping me out a lot."

DeBakey low vision therapist Tonya Mennem said, "He moved into a new home and he hasn't run into any of the walls and that's incredible progress for him."

It's progress his mother hopes will steadily continue.

"It's been really a blessing," said Debbie. "We just keep practicing and hoping that vision gets better."

This spring, the DeBakey VA Medical Center opened a new 2,900 square foot visual impairment services center to provide a wide range of help for veterans in need of specialized vision care.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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