ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) – According to the CDC, approximately 795,000 people suffer a stroke each year. About half of these people see vision loss because of it. From now on, the only recovery is to live with this impaired vision. New research at the University of Rochester shows we can do better.
Physiotherapy is given to a stroke patient and can often work well. The doctors at URMC want to offer even more to patients suffering from vision loss. Krystel Huxlin is the James V. Aquavella Professor of Ophthalmology and director of research who has focused on helping stroke victims regain their vision.
“People who have a stroke in another part of the brain, the visual part of the brain,” Huxlin said, “There’s nothing for them, so they’re usually diagnosed and sent home, and they’re given said to basically learn to be blind.”
Traditional therapy will learn how to use remnants of vision. Huxlin worked to teach the brain to reconstruct this loss of vision. It was first in patients more than six months after their occipital stroke. “You have to force the blind field to do the job, and that means you have to control where the eyes are, very precisely.
Months of training in a research capacity with patients around the world consisted of daily “workouts” lasting about an hour. The patient would use their peripheral vision to select patterns that were uniquely placed in areas of vision loss based on a brain scan.
Elizabeth Saionz has just defended her doctoral thesis which aimed to help stroke patients regain vision within three months of the stroke. “The patient could recover more vision, they could recover it faster, and they could recover it across a wider range of visual abilities,” Saionz said.
Reading and driving were just a few of the skills that patients would regain through these hugely successful experiences. While some patients may see immediate change, others see slower change, like a growing child, Saionz said. “It’s nice to see all your Excel spreadsheets with all the data, but it’s really exciting when someone tells you how much it changed their life.”
The work has helped more than two hundred patients in a research setting, but the therapy is not yet FDA approved, so it will be several months before it becomes widely available to the public. You can get more information by contacting Dr. Huxlin here.