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Optometry At Play: Why Eye Doctors Are Looking At Tetris

As it turns out, video games aren't as vision-impairing as one might think.

Ambylopia is a disorder in which one eye becomes noticeably weaker than the other one, resulting in blurred, impaired vision, and may well be one of the most perplexing impairments any optometrist is forced to deal with. This is said to occur because of a glitch in either the optic nerve or in the brain itself; the end result of which is the dominant eye suppressing the functions of the weaker one. 

Lazy Eye, as it is colloquially known, afflicts somewhere between one and five percent of the current population, and most efforts to treat it have, for all intents and purposes, failed miserably. The best, most current treatment option - blocking vision in the 'strong' eye so that the 'weak' eye is forced to compensate - is almost entirely ineffective in most adult patients, and only meets with marginal success in children. 

Researchers at McGill University in Montreal on Monday made a breakthrough in the treatment of Lazy Eye, and published a scientific paper revealing some rather fascinating news: apparently, Tetris may actually be a sound cure for the disorder. The reason, the researchers explained, is because the legendary puzzle game trains the eyes to work together - "information is distributed across them in a complementary fashion," meaning the weaker eye has no choice but to adapt in order to keep up. 

In short, it fosters co-operation between the eyes. 

"The key to improving vision for adults , who currently have no other treatment options, was to set up conditions that would enable to two eyes to co-operate for the first time in a given task," explained senior author Dr. Robert Hess in a press release.

The researchers tested 18 adult patients afflicted with Amblyopia. Nine of these patients played Tetris with the stronger eye patched, and nine played with both eyes uncovered. Two weeks later, the researchers found that patients who played with both eyes showed noticeable improvement in both vision and perception of 3D images, while those wearing a patch displayed only moderate improvement. When the patch was removed from the secondary group, they showed the same improvement as the primary. 

The reason this works is because the brain is actually forced to use both eyes, rather than focusing on either one or the other. Giving preference to either of the two optic nerves means an inability to adequately track on-screen movements of the blocks. In other words, one of the most beloved, best-known games in the hobby's history may actually have a medical, scientific use. 

While it's still too early to say definitively whether or not this signifies a new frontier for the treatment of Lazy Eye, the results look very, very good indeed. The research group plans to carry out a clinical trial involving children across North America later this year. 

Source: CNet

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Nicholas Greene
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