Exercise your brain (not your eyes) to keep your vision healthy

Presbyopia is seen as one of those unavoidable signs of aging, your eyes losing plasticity and making it harder and harder to read. Bifocals perched on your nose as you squint at a newspaper (or computer screen). But even as your eyes get old, there might be a way to fight it by keeping your brain spry.

Researchers from UC Berkley and Tel-Aviv University have found some evidence that eye exercises may be able to help presbyopes improve their vision appreciably. They took a group of middle-aged people with the disorder, and ran them through a thrice-weekly, half-hour series of eye exercises. Over three months, thirty subjects did the eye exercises. The result? Those that struggled to make out newsprint were now able to read it, contrast detection and accommodation improved, and their reading speed increased, too.

But here's the cool part: this wasn't due to any measurable improvement in their eyes. Rather, the researchers believe that this is the brain at work, increasing the efficiency of neural processing to "de-blur" the images, and decipher it better. They think the brain is plastic enough that it can learn to overcome the deficits of age.

Now, this was a very small study without a double-blind randomized control, so it's very possible these results might not pan out. However, if it should be true, expect eye-training to replace sudoku as pastime of choice for the elderly.

For those at home who want to give this a try, first you'll have to decipher the description of the training:

Subjects were trained on contrast detection of Gabor targets under backward masking conditions, posing temporal constraints on the visual processing. The training covered a range of spatial frequencies and orien- tations that were modified in accordance with the performance improvement. Subjects were trained in a dark room from a distance of 40 cm with both eyes open.

Photo by Ahmed Sinan.