Research by the University of Aberdeen scientists, reported in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, has shown that a specialised computer system can enlarge the visual field in status post stroke patients. Cortical blindness is a result of a stroke’s damage to the visual pathways in the brain, while the eye itself is completely intact.
According to the BBC News,
A computer system containing visual stimuli which flash on a screen was installed in the homes of 12 stroke sufferers with partial sight loss.
Each patient was asked to repeatedly perform a series of tasks over a three-month period, which involved pressing buttons when they detected the flickering.
From the university press release:
The scientists discovered that by the end of the process all 12 showed increased visual sensitivity within their blind field.
Dr Arash Sahraie, Reader in Visual Neuroscience, within the University of Aberdeen’s School of Psychology, led the research. He said: “We are very excited about this finding. It could give hope to the thousands of patients who have suffered sight loss following brain damage and are told on a daily basis that nothing can be done.
“Obviously these are very encouraging findings and we need to do a lot more research with many more patients but if we can help regain visual capability in the blind field it could have real benefits for people in this situation. For example, we are already finding that patients report that they can navigate more easily around their home or feel more confident when they are crossing the road.”
The researchers believe that the particular visual targets used in their device, optimally stimulate the surviving neuronal pathways which in turn encourage changes within the brain.
Dr Sahraie added: “You can get physiotherapy and speech therapy after brain damage so why not rehabilitation for the sight.”
Dr Mary Joan Macleod, Stroke Consultant at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, said “If you are otherwise reasonably fit, but suddenly struggling because of your sight, it can be devastating for both you and your family. This offers a real opportunity to improve life for patients who have had this kind of stroke, where before we had little to offer these people.”