Vision Therapy For Stroke Patients

Every year, about 15 million people—including 700,000 Americans—suffer a stroke. In fact, strokes are the fifth-leading cause of death here in the U.S. It’s also one of the main causes of disability in adults. As you may know, the effects from strokes can vary wildly. In a mild case, patients may only have minor symptoms. More serious strokes can lead to a range of issues, including visual dysfunction. In fact, more than 66 percent of stroke victims—over two thirds—suffer vision loss. That’s where we come in. Visual therapy, or neuro vision rehabilitation, can be extremely beneficial to those who are recovering from a stroke or traumatic brain injury. A leading Annapolis, MD vision therapist goes over some information on this below. 

What Is A Stroke?

Also known as a cerebrovascular accident, or CVA, strokes happen when the blood flow to the brain is blocked or interrupted, typically when a blood vessel is blocked or bursts. As soon as that blood flow is impacted, the brain stops receiving oxygen and nutrients. This can immediately start causing severe damage to the brain cells. 

Because of the way strokes affect the brain, many other bodily functions can be affected. Some of the common side effects of stroke include a loss of motor skills, memory loss, headaches, and a loss of speech and language skills, to name a few. 

Vision can also be impacted. About two out of three strokes survivors report visual impairments. (It’s also worth mentioning that clurred or double vision can be warning signs of a stroke.) Many doctors now recommend that patients get a comprehensive visual screening after a stroke. Early screenings and exams may determine if neuro vision rehabilitation is required along with other therapy. 

How Does Stroke Impact Vision?

The most common issues usually involve either problems with the central vision, trouble with peripheral vision, trouble with eye movement, or difficulty with visual perception. 

Many different vision problems fall under these umbrellas. These can include:

  • Blurred Vision
  • Distorted/Altered Vision
  • Double Vision
  • Changes Or Loss In The Visual Field
  • Trouble Reading
  • Light Sensitivity

Understandably, these issues can affect nearly every aspect of day-to-day living.  Stroke victims may not be able to drive, read, work, or perform daily tasks. Their social lives may also be impacted, which can in turn have a detrimental effect on their mental and emotional well-being.

What Is Neuro Visual Therapy?
Vision therapy—also called neuro optometric vision therapy or neuro visual therapy—is aimed at repairing and strengthening brain/eye communication. 

Neuro visual optometry therapy may involve certain devices, such as patches or prisms. It also often includes doing visual exercises. These may include things that involve a lot of scanning, searching, tracking, and focusing on various objects. Some exercises may involve focusing on different spots of the visual field. An example would be visually tracking a pencil someone else is moving, or coordinating your breathing with focusing on different objects. 

In some cases, particularly when beginning treatment, you may do these under the supervision of your vision therapist. Over the course of treatment, you may also do some of the exercises at home. 

It’s important to realize that neuro visual therapy treatments are not one-size-fits-all. Because every situation is unique, that therapy needs to be tailored to suit the patient. Someone who has lost peripheral vision may not need the same treatment as someone with light sensitivity. 

Your vision therapist will evaluate your needs, based on your history and test results, and recommend a treatment plan. 

Why Does Vision Therapy Help With Stroke Recovery?

We’ve all heard the term ‘muscle memory’. A similar concept applies to neuro visual optometry treatments for stroke patients. Strokes affect the ‘wiring’ of the brain, essentially erasing or damaging its programming. 

You may have heard of patients who  have to relearn basic skills after a stroke. This applies to the eyes as well. Any type of brain injury can impact oculomotor and visual perceptual skills.

Fortunately, the healthy part of the brain can take over the functions that were afflicted. However, this isn’t as simple as flipping a switch: like learning anything new, it takes time. Repeating certain exercises and activities can help speed this healing. However, it’s well worth the effort.

Some of the benefits of vision therapy include:

  • Reducing blurred vision
  • Easing dizziness
  • Improving visual function
  • Reducing double vision 

Ask your vision therapist for more information. 

How Can I Improve My Vision After A Stroke?

Any post stroke recovery plan should be determined by your doctor and vision therapist. In addition to neuro vision rehabilitation, eating well, getting lots of rest, and following your doctor’s guidelines will also help with recovery. 

As it turns out, many simple pastimes can also be very helpful for vision therapy.

Here are a few examples: 

Visual Puzzles: Picture puzzles, such as searching for an object in a photo or picking a shape out of a background, are another activity that can be helpful. These also help with tracking skills, as you’ll need to look both from side to side and up and down.  Word searches can also be helpful for this.

Mazes: Solving maze puzzles is another way to get those cylinders firing. This very much involves the parts of the brain that process visual and spatial information.

Tracing Objects: Using tracer paper to outline pictures or even simple shapes can help improve both visual and motor skills.

Computer Games: Computer games are very visual, and definitely get those inserts firing. Games made for kids can be quite helpful. Your vision therapist will be able to recommend specific games or exercises. 

Remember, every case is different, so your treatment plan will be customized based on your specific needs and challenges. For instance, some patients may benefit from other treatments, such as an eye patch or prism glasses. Others may need different treatments. Don’t do anything unless your doctor and/or vision therapist clear it.

It’s also important to pace yourself. Your eyes may tire out quickly, especially at first. Your vision therapist will be able to advise you on taking breaks. 

However, if you feel any pain, or if you notice other symptoms appearing, stop the exercise right away and contact your Annapolis, MD vision therapist and/or doctor, as this could be indicative of another issue. 

Why Is Neuro Optometric Therapy Recommended For Stroke Patients? 
Because of advances in medicine and traumatic brain injury rehabilitation, scientists have learned a lot about not only how strokes can affect vision, but also how to start repairing that damage. Neuro vision rehabilitation can be extremely beneficial. In fact, it’s now quite common for doctors to recommend vision therapy for recovering stroke patients. 

While of course the primary goal here is to restore vision, there’s also a safety consideration. As many as a quarter of those who have had strokes are affected with low vision, or hemianopias. This visual defect can cause people to trip and fall, knock things over, run into things. They can also be startled by people or objects that seem to appear in their field of vision out of nowhere. This can be dangerous, as there is an increased risk of falls or other accidents. 

Conclusion: Strokes are very serious, and can be extremely scary. However, as we learn more and more about how the brain works, we’re also learning more ways to repair it. Vision therapy—or neuro optometric vision rehabilitation— is becoming a standard part of post stroke treatment for many patients, and can help stroke survivors restore their vision. 

Do you want to learn more about vision therapy? Contact us here at The Center for Vision Development, your Annapolis, MD vision therapy center.