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Video Games May Help Treat Lazy Eye

Study Shows Playing Video Games May Improve Vision for People With Lazy Eye

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept. 22, 2010 -- Most scientific studies on video games have focused on the harmful effects of playing the fast-moving action games on computer or TV screens. But new research indicates that video game therapy can improve the vision of adults with lazy eye.

A study published in the Sept. 21 issue of PLoS Biology shows that people with lazy eye, or amblyopia, had marked improvement in visual acuity and 3-D depth perception after spending 40 hours playing video games.

Study researcher Roger Li, PhD, of the School of Optometry and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, says the study is the first to show that playing video games can improve blurred vision in adults with lazy eye.

“I was very surprised by this finding,” Li says in a news release. “I didn't expect to see this type of improvement.”

No studies have shown similar benefits for people with normal vision, so no one should use the new findings to justify spending more time behind screens playing video games, the researchers say.

Amblyopia is a brain disorder in which the vision in one eye does not develop properly and is the most frequent cause of permanent visual impairment in childhood, affecting two to three of every 100 children, according to the National Eye Institute. Amblyopia is also the most common cause of one-eye visual impairment among young adults or people in middle age.

Although lazy eye in children can be treated by putting a patch over the “good eye” to force the brain to use the “lazy” one, few options have been available for adults with the disorder, the researchers say.

“These new findings are very encouraging because there are currently no accepted treatments for adults with amblyopia,” says Dennis Levi, of University of California, Berkeley and dean of optometry at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute.

He says that conventional wisdom has held that unless the disorder is corrected in childhood, “damage was thought to be irreversible,” but that apparently is not the case.

Li and Levi say they've found that intensive training on a perceptual task, such as getting two horizontal lines to align, can lead to an improvement of 30% to 40% in visual acuity.

Researchers used an action video game that required subjects to shoot at targets, or a non-action game where users construct things on screen. Twenty subjects participated, between the ages of 20 and 60.

In one experiment, 10 patients played the action video game for 40 hours, two hours at a time, over the course of a month. In another, three people played the non-action video game for the same amount of time, while wearing a patch over their good eyes.

The researchers say both experiments produced a 30% increase in visual acuity, or an average of 1.5 lines on the standard letter charges used by optometrists.

It can take 120 hours of occlusion therapy to see the same improvement in children with lazy eye. The researchers measured performance after every 10 hours of game playing, and some subjects began to show improvement earlier than 40 hours.

Li says that people who began by playing a non-action video game continued to improve after playing the action video game for an additional 40 hours. He says it's not clear yet when visual improvement might reach a plateau.

He cautions that research is in its early stages and that patients shouldn't try to self-treat their lazy eye condition, but instead, work with eye doctors on their problem.

SOURCES: News release, University of California, Berkeley.Li, R. PLoS Biology, vol 8: pp 1-9, September 2010.

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