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Mental Health and Your Vision

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Mental Health and Your Vision

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the USA; in Canada, Mental Health week is May 6th to 12th. Since 1949, it has been observed throughout the United States as a way of drawing attention to the importance of proper mental health. This year’s theme is #4Mind4Body. The idea is that using elements around us, such as the people in our lives, faith, nature, and even pets, can strengthen wellness and overall mental health.

Did you know that your vision can affect your mental health? While things like stress, trauma, and family history are factors that impact mental health, vision can also impact it.

How Does Vision Affect Mental Health?

Certain types of eye diseases and visual impairments can lead to emotional problems like anxiety and depression. This is particularly common in cases of severe vision loss. Patients with glaucoma, macular degeneration, or diabetic retinopathy, for example, can experience mild to acute vision loss. This can make everyday activities like driving, running errands, watching TV, using a computer, or cooking, a difficult and painful experience. When this happens, it can cause a loss of independence, potentially leaving the person mentally and emotionally devastated.

Like most surgical procedures, LASIK corrective surgery is permanent and irreversible. Although it has very high success rates, LASIK has been considered the cause of depression and mental health issues in a few instances.

Kids’ Vision and Mental Health

Increased screen time among school-age children and teens has been shown to reduce emotional stability and cause repeated distractions and difficulty completing tasks, while also increasing the likelihood of developing nearsightedness.

Kids with visual problems often experience difficulty in school. If they can’t see the board clearly or constantly struggle with homework due to poor vision, they may act out their frustration or have trouble getting along with their peers.

Coping with Vision Problems

One of the most important ways to cope with visual problems is awareness. Simply paying attention to the signs and symptoms — whether the patient is an adult or a child — is a crucial first step. 

Family members, close friends, colleagues, parents, and teachers can all play an important role in detecting emotional suffering in those with visual difficulties. Pay attention to signs of changes in behavior, such as a loss of appetite, persistent exhaustion, or decreased interest in favorite activities.

Thankfully, many common vision problems are treatable. Things like double vision, hyperopia (farsightedness), myopia (nearsightedness), amblyopia (lazy eye), and post-concussion vision difficulties can be managed. Vision correction devices, therapeutic lenses, visual exercises, or special prism glasses may help provide the visual clarity you need. Your primary eye doctor can help and a vision therapist or low vision expert may make a significant impact on your quality of life.

How You Can Help

There are some things you can do on your own to raise awareness about good mental health:

Speak Up

Often, just talking about mental health struggles can be incredibly empowering. Ask for help from family and friends or find a local support group. Be open and honest about what you’re going through and talk with others who are going through the same thing. Remember: you’re not alone.

If you experience any type of sudden changes to your vision — even if it’s temporary — talk to your eye doctor. A delay in treatment may have more serious consequences, so speak up and don’t wait.

Get Social

Developing healthy personal relationships improves mental health. People with strong social connections are less likely to experience severe depression and may even live longer. Go out with friends, join a club, or consider volunteering.

Have an Animal

Having a pet has been shown to boost mental health and help combat feelings of loneliness. Guide dogs can be especially beneficial for people suffering from vision loss.

Use Visual Aids

If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health issues caused by vision loss, visual aids can help. Devices like magnifiers or telescopic lenses can enlarge text, images, and objects, so you can see them more clearly and in greater detail.

Kids can benefit from vision correction like glasses, contacts, or specialized lenses for more severe cases of refractive errors. Vision therapy may be an option, too. It is a customized program of exercises that can improve and strengthen visual functions.

Always talk to your eye doctor about any concerns, questions, or struggles. 

Thanks to programs like Mental Health Awareness Month, there is less of a stigma around mental health than just a few decades ago. Advancements in medical technologies and scientific research have led to innovative solutions for better vision care.

During this Mental Health Awareness Month, share your share your struggles, stories, and successes with others. Use the hashtag #Mind4Body and give your loved ones hope for a healthy and high quality of life.

 

What is Vision Therapy?

I. Definition:

Optometric Vision Therapy is a treatment plan used to correct or improve specific dysfunctions of the vision system. It includes, but is not limited to, the treatment of strabismus, amblyopia, accommodation, ocular motor function and visual-perceptual-motor abilities.

II. What does Vision Therapy do?

Optometric Vision Therapy works on the development of visual skills, among which are the following:

  1. The ability to follow a moving object smoothly, accurately and effortlessly with both eyes and at the same time think, talk, read or listen without losing alignment of eyes. This pursuit ability is used to follow a ball or a person, to guide a pencil while writing, to read numbers on moving railroad box cars, etc.
  2. The ability to fix the eyes on a series of stationary objects quickly and accurately, with both eyes, and at the same time know what each object is; a skill used to read words from left to right, add columns of numbers, read maps, etc.
  3. The ability to change focus quickly, without blur, from far to near and from near to far, over and over, effortlessly and at the same time look for meaning and obtain understanding from the symbols or objects seen. This ability is used to copy from the chalkboard, to watch the road ahead and check the speedometer, to read a book and watch TV across the room, etc.
  4. The ability to team two eyes together. This skill should work so well that no interference exists between the two eyes that can result in having to suppress or mentally block information from one eye or the other. This shutting off of information to one eye lowers understanding and speed, increases fatigue and distractibility, and shortens attention span. Proper teaming permits efficient vision to emerge and learning to occur.
  5. The ability to see over a large area (in the periphery) while pointing the eyes straight ahead. For safety, self-confidence and to read rapidly, a person needs to see “the big picture,” to know easily where they are on a page while reading and to take in large amounts of information, i.e., a large number of words per look.
  6. The ability to see and know (recognize) in a short look. Efficient vision is dependent on the ability to see rapidly, to see and know an object, people or words in a very small fraction of a second. The less time required to see, the faster the reading and thinking.
  7. The ability to see in depth. A child should be able to throw a ball into a hat 10 feet away, to judge the visual distance and control the arm movements needed. An adult needs to see and judge how far it is to the curb and make accurate visual decisions about the speed and distances of other cars, in order to be safe.

Contributed by Amanda Timbre, COVT

Eye teaming: Reading and Learning

Eye teaming Reading Learning

FIRST a child learns how to use his eyes together as a TEAM.THEN he applies those visual skills to learn to READEVENTUALLY the child reads in order to LEARN

For a child with vision related learning difficulties, the first step may never have happened; making it hard to read and impossible to comprehend and learn.

As a part of our therapy program, we build our patient’s skills up from the ground level. We teach the eyes how to function alone, then as a team, then involve more difficult skills such as visualization and visual memory. Both fine and gross motor are also incorporated. By the end of our individualized therapy program, the patient has all of the necessary tools in their vision skills toolbox, as well as the knowledge and self awareness to know when to use a specific tool they have now gained!

If your child is not achieving her academic potential, have her evaluated by a developmental optometrist like our very own Dr. Jacobi. Most optometrists only check distance sight, but children spend the majority of their time looking up close while reading and writing. This is why so many vision related learning difficulties go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Contributed by Amanda Timbre, COVT

Can I do Vision Therapy instead of surgery???

The short answer is…YES YES YES.

People with strabismus (also known as an eye turn, or “lazy eye”) are often told they will need surgery to correct the problem. While some more extreme cases may in fact require surgery, many eye turns can be cured with a great vision therapy program; designed by a developmental optometrist and implemented by a vision therapist. In those extreme cases where someone does need surgery to correct the problem, they will also almost certainly need vision therapy in order to teach the eyes and the brain to work together correctly. Often times, we see children who have gone through eye surgery…only to have their eye turn return, or their vision continue to be impeded; even if they look “normal” cosmetically. This is because cutting the muscles in eye surgery does not TEACH the eyes and the BRAIN to work together, as is done in vision therapy. It is important to be seen by a developmental optometrist to determine what is needed for the individual patient.

Here is a great article written by a woman who went through quite an ordeal with strabismus. She describes her difficulties in school and work, less than desirable experiences with some doctors, as well as how vision therapy changed her life.

http://www.betsyyaros.com/the-cost-of-eye-surgery-vs-vision-therapy

Contributed by Amanda Timbre, COVT

Congratulations Fernie!

Congratulations Fernie

Fernie was 4 years old when she started our Vision Therapy Program 9 months ago.

She was scheduled for surgery for her eye turn, but when her parents found our website and information about vision therapy, they brought her in to see Dr. Jacobi one week before the surgery was scheduled to be performed. She was prescribed 9 months of vision therapy. Fernie came every week to see her vision therapist and worked hard at home with mom and dad. Surgery was cancelled and today we are celebrating her graduation!

Fernie has successfully learned how to control her eyes so that they do not turn out and are able to work well together to give her great vision! As she has said, she is now able to control whether she sees 1 of her dad, or 2! Her parents report that she is much happier and has grown so much. She is ready to start school in the Fall!

Congratulations Fernie, we are so proud of you!

Contributed by Amanda Timbre, COVT

Congratulations Delaney!

Miss Delaney graduated yesterday! Her growth throughout the program has been AMAZING. She has gained a huge boost to her confidence and independence and she went from missing 23 reversals on her initial evaluation to missing ONE on her final eval. On her final evaluation, she tested WAY above average on nearly everything! Her mom mentioned that she is more independent and confident, she can READ, and she is doing things that she could never do before. What an amazing girl and an amazing transformation. Delaney we are so proud of you! Keep up the hard work and remember YOU CAN DO IT!

Congratulations Delaney 1
Congratulations Delaney 2
disrael

Contributed by Amanda Timbre, COVT

Vision Therapy for the patient with TBI

So you know that Vision Therapy can be life changing for children and adults with vision related learning difficulties…but did you know that it can also be life changing for a person with a traumatic brain injury? This includes someone who had a concussion, stroke, car accident, fall, etc…and Vision Therapy can make a dramatic difference!

Our Chief Vision Therapist, Amanda, spent the weekend at a workshop learning more about how we can best serve our patients with TBI. It is best to seek treatment sooner than later, but even if your injury was years ago and you are still experiencing symptoms, Vision Therapy may change your life!

A person who has experienced a TBI may have many unfortunate vision-related symptoms including headaches, dizziness, double/blurred vision, poor balance and coordination, bumping into things, and often just a feeling that something “isn’t right.” Sometimes Vision Therapy alone is enough to help someone feel “normal” again. Other times, we will work with occupational therapists and physical therapists to form a cohesive team to help the person experience the most rehabilitation possible for them. No matter what your age, studies have shown that it is possible to create new neurological pathways and “retrain the brain.”

The human body is an amazing thing and it’s fascinating how all of our body systems are connected. Vision Therapy can have a profound impact on a person in ways that can be surprising and wonderful.

Contributed by Amanda Timbre, COVT

Eye Exam VS Vision Screening…Tomato Tomahto?

Eye Exam VS Vision Screening…Tomato Tomahto

Is a vision screening the same as an eye exam…. or a “online eye exam?” This is a common question. Many schools and pediatricians perform vision screenings…does your child still need an eye exam in-person with an optometrist?

The answer is 100% YES, because a vision screening is not the same as a comprehensive eye exam, and neither is an eye exam done online. Vision screenings at the school or pediatrician’s office are designed to detect obvious problems with SIGHT. As you have learned from our previous blog posts, sight is only one component of vision. Children who pass vision screenings often have vision problems that affect their learning. It is better to have an optometrist examine your child, and BEST to have a developmental optometrist perform the exam. This is because developmental optometrists, like our very own Dr. Jacobi, are certified in vision and learning development and test for vision issues that vision screenings as well as other optometrists often miss.

Another important thing to mention, is that vision screenings do not check the health of a person’s eyes. A vision screening is the first step to detecting an issue, but a comprehensive eye exam with a developmental optometrist will provide you with much more information in regards to the performance and health of your child’s eyes.

The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that children have their first comprehensive eye exam at 6 months old, and (providing that there are no issues), again at age 3, just before starting Kindergarten, and annually thereafter. Because we believe in the importance of this, we offer free comprehensive eye exams for children who are entering Kindergarten.

Summer is a great time to schedule an eye exam for your family! Make sure that your children begin the school year ready to learn. Should your child need to begin vision therapy, getting a head start over the summer is very helpful! And don’t forget about yourself – whether you have a family history of eye disease, dry eyes, allergies, need specialty contacts or vision therapy – we are your friendly and knowledgeable eye care professionals.

Contributed by Amanda Timbre, COVT

What if you saw letters like this?

What if you saw letters like this

Today we discovered that our patient sees any print within arms reach as though it is overlapped. And no one ever knew. She has had eye exams before, but her specific difficulties and diagnoses were not discovered until she came to see Dr. Jacobi for a comprehensive eye exam with a developmental optometrist. She sees 20/20 and her sight is fine, which is why other eye doctors did not diagnose her with any vision difficulties. But when she reads she has to pick which word makes more sense in the context and not surprisingly she HATES writing. I realized this when she couldn’t read anything with both eyes open within 12 inches of her face. With one eye covered, she can read the letters, but with both eyes open she would squint her eyes, tilt her head, close an eye…She said it looked blurry like black blobs… so I had her draw exactly what she saw. This is what she drew.

Can you imagine being a young child in a classroom trying to keep up when this is how things look?? And these kids are often labeled as lazy, ADD, etc. These are the kids who are quick to give up and say they can’t, who tell me they just want to be smart, who cry when we tell they they are smart-we just need to help their eyes work better together. These are the moms that cry in the therapy room because they feel so bad they never knew. These are also the kids who learn during vision therapy that they can achieve great things- who gain confidence and success. The kids who make me fight back tears on their VT graduation day while mom cries and we discuss how far they’ve come. The good news is we can definitely change her life. This is why we work so hard and this is why we are so passionate about what we do!Vision Therapy is truly life-changing. Kids often don’t know how to describe what they see, and they often think everyone sees that way. This is why it is so important to take your child to a developmental optometrist. If you are not in our area, go to covd.org and search for a board certified optometrist who is a fellow at the college of optometry in vision development.
Contributed by Amanda Timbre, COVT

What’s the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist?

What’s the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist?

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (MDs) who specialize in the health of the eye. When they assess vision, it is a confirmation that the eye is healthy and there is no disease. Their main focus is on surgery.

Optometrists are vision specialists (ODs, optometric doctors) who help people maximize the functional aspects of vision. When they assess the medical aspects of eyecare, it is because healthy eyes allow for better vision (with each eye and with both eyes as a team). Their training usually addresses the art of providing comfortable lenses for seeing with two eyes. They are also trained in the diagnosis and management of eye conditions and diseases as well as systemic diseases impacting the eye. It is a broad scope of training, and depends on the specific doctor and his or her specialties.

Pediatric ophthalmologists do conduct surgery related to eye-teaming. Unfortunately, vision rehabilitation and visual processing skills are not part of their training, and their opinion of vision therapy varies from doctor to doctor. Opthamologists are generally surgery focused, as they are surgeons. Unfortunately, surgery only corrects the cosmetic issue with eyes, and not the neurological issues of vision disorders. This is why generally vision therapy is the best treatment for an eye turn, or in some cases of a very large turn, a combination of surgery and vision therapy.

Developmental optometrists who specialize in vision therapy (“VTODs” such as Dr. Jacobi) undergo a considerable amount of post-doctoral training to enhance their understanding of vision development, visual information processing, visual rehabilitation concepts and techniques. Certifications for this include university-accredited residency programs and Fellowships attained with various post-doc organizations such as the COVD (College of Optometry and Vision Development), where Dr. Jacobi received his certification. Continuing education is also an important aspect of such certification.

If you or your child are in need of a comprehensive eye and vision assessment, I suggest beginning with a developmental optometrist, especially when there are problems which interfere with the ability to read, learn, comprehend, or even to pay attention. Sometimes, a person can have a vision disorder without realizing it, and a developmental optometrist can implement things to correct it before it becomes a bigger problem for the patient. Most optometrists assess sight at distance and don’t test vision, eye teaming and sight and vision at near (where kids spend most of their day looking). When managing strabismus (eye turns) or amblyopia (lazy eye), I again suggest a VTOD for a more complete rehabilitative approach. In cases where the turn is so large that surgery is needed in addition to vision therapy, Dr. Jacobi will refer a patient to a trusted ophthalmologist for collaborative care.

I hope this information is helpful to you! We understand that when you or your child is experiencing any difficulty, all of the information out there can be overwhelming and it is difficult to determine where to start. As with any profession, levels of expertise and competency will always vary based on individual experience and inspiration. At our office we specialize in contact lenses, dry eye, low vision and vision therapy. Dr. Jacobi is board certified with the COVD and has been working with children and adults with vision disorders for decades. We are passionate about what we do, and who we serve, and we would love to help more patients achieve the success they aspire to.
Contributed by Amanda Timbre, COVT