Every “mild” brain injury is a serious situation. A brain injury can be life altering, no matter how “mild” it is. It can cause lasting damage that affects a patient’s quality of life. Most brain injury patients exhibit visual problems that arises from the neurological damage. Brain injuries include, but are not limited to, head trauma, including concussions, cerebrovascular accident (stroke), cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. A brain injury can have significant psychological implications including anxiety and depression.
Ninety percent of patients who have suffered a brain injury have experienced visual dysfunctions. A patient may still achieve 20/20 acuity, but their visual complications may go much further than 20/20 eyesight. Vision, for example, is one of three systems that allows one to keep their balance. Consequently, the brain injured are less stable while standing, walking or driving. Other problems include eye movement deficits, double vision, blurry vision, trouble with focusing, over sensitivity to movement in the environment and sensitivity to light. It is important that these symptoms should not be ignored but they can easily be overlooked during a visual examination.
Treatment for visual disorders caused from neurological damage can be rehabilitated through a team approach that includes neuro-optometric rehabilitation. This rehabilitation targets the interaction of the brain to control and integrate the visual and motor/sensory systems. Even though damage to the neurology that controls eye movements, eye coordination and focusing are significant; these deficits are potentially only a portion of the impact of brain injury on the visual system.
The inability to process the visual information once the information reaches the brain is the highest level of insult and injury to the quality of life of the patient. Visual information processing includes both short and long-term memory as well as the individual’s ability to quickly and accurately make executive decisions- their ability to think. This has direct impact upon the person’s ability to detect danger or judge distances in activities such as walking or driving a car. The inability to correctly code the written word dramatically impacts reading and writing that, in turn, has a devastating impact on one’s ability to earn a living or to enjoy activities that require an adequately functioning visual system.
Dr. Megan Sumrall Lott is a member of Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association, the leading association in this field. She is also a Fellow of the College of Visual Development, the optometric board certifying body for those who practice vision rehabilitation.