Rehabilitation for your Eyes––Penrose-St. Francis Health Services

Rehabilitation for your Eyes

By Chris Valentine, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, Colorado Springs LIVING WELL Magazine

The human eye is composed of many parts that work together. They receive visual images, focus them properly, and send messages to the brain. When you look at an object, each eye sees a slightly different picture. The brain combines the pictures that each eye sees and makes them into one picture. But what happens when a stroke or brain injury impacts your vision?

It makes perfect sense when you explain it but it isn’t a practice that is commonly found in hospitals. Dr. Glen House, medical director of rehabilitation services at Penrose Hospital, intuitively knew that the eyes play an important role in the body’s motor system but it was only six years ago that he had the idea to invite a vision specialist to join the hospital rehabilitation team, which already included physical, occupational and speech therapists. Dr. House reached out to Dr. Thomas Wilson, an optometrist in the community who has special training in vision development.

Many people ignore significant visual issues after a car accident or a stroke. These problems can be difficult to diagnose and treat. Dr. Wilson explained that a patient who has a head injury or stroke may suffer from one of three problems with their eyes. They may have double vision, loss of peripheral vision or a decrease in visual motor skills, like being able to track with their eyes. As you can imagine, being able to treat these conditions or provide adaptive measures to compensate can have a huge impact on other aspects of rehabilitation such as physical therapy or occupational therapy.

“I recently took care of a stroke patient who had completely lost their left field of vision,” says Dr. Wilson. “This patient completely ignored everything on their left side. Due to the stroke, this person would probably never recover their left field of vision. I put this patient into a pair of special glasses that shifts space to the left. We call them our Harry Potter glasses because they kind of look like the glasses that Harry wore in the movies. Anyway, almost instantly, this patient began to notice things on the left side. This allowed the patient to begin walking with their physical therapist without bumping into things on the left. In other words, they were now able to scan with their eyes to the left.”

In the case of double vision, Dr. Wilson explained the process of treatment. “We would start with prism correction. When the patient went home, we would help them transition to glasses with prisms. The person would then work at home on a variety of vision exercises to decrease their reliance on the prisms with the goal of eventually getting them into regular glasses.”

As shown by these examples, clear vision is an important part of everyday life and, when an injury or stroke impacts someone’s vision, treating a person’s sight can go a long way to improving their recovery efforts. So, while we hope we are never hospitalized with a stroke or brain injury, it is nice to know that there are people like Dr. House and Dr. Wilson working to help get people back to their lives.