Could playing Tetris help to cure a ‘lazy eye’?

eyeThe term ‘amblyopia’ may sound like a distant planet from the science fiction TV show Star Trek; however it is actually the medical term for ‘lazy eye’.

This is where the vision in one eye does not completely develop as it should during childhood, resulting in the child having to rely on their better eye due to it being harder to see out of the amblyopic (lazy) eye.

Amblyopia is believed to be quite uncommon, however certainly not a rare condition. Approximately one in every 50 children will develop a lazy eye. Children with the condition will usually have difficulty ascertaining the distance between themselves and an object. This can prove a hindrance in simple tasks such as catching a ball. In some cases, amblyopia can cause the affected eye to appear different to the ‘good’ one due to a slight squint.

If left untreated, there is a risk of permanent loss of vision in the weaker eye.  To correct the problem, treatment involves covering the child’s stronger eye with a patch, thus encouraging the child to use the affected eye.  Treatment is a gradual process and the patch is usually worn for the majority of the day, for many months. Eye patch treatment has found to be much less effective in adults.

However, a research team at McGill University in Montreal, believe that may have stumbled upon a more interesting and fun method of fixing the problem of lazy eye and it is an unlikely source; the video game Tetris.

Tetris is a decades-old popular, yet simple game that requires the player to connect-up blocks as they descend from the top of the screen.

The research team, led by Dr Robert Hess, studied 18 amblyopia patients and equipped each one with a pair of special video goggles that forced the individual’s eyes to work together.

Nine of the participants were requested to wear the goggles for an hour a day (whilst playing Tetris), over the course of two weeks. The goggles were cleverly designed to only able one eye to view falling objects, with the other eye only permitted to see the blocks that assembled on the bottom of the screen.

Meanwhile, the other half of the group also played Tetris for the same time length (one hour a day for two weeks), wearing a patch over their good eye and playing the game by only using the bad eye.

At the end of the two weeks, the group who had worn the goggles and thereby used both of their eyes had shown ‘dramatic’ improvement in their vision in the weaker eye compared to those wearing a patch.

Interestingly, when the groups switched over for another two weeks, those previously wearing an eye patch also enjoyed a similar improvement by this time wearing the goggles.

Dr Hess said: “Using head-mounted video goggles we were able to display the game dichoptically, where one eye was allowed to see only the falling objects, and the other eye was allowed to see only the ground plane objects. Forcing the eyes to work together, we believed, would improve vision in the lazy eye. When we get the two eyes working together, we find the vision improves. It’s much better than patching, much more enjoyable, it’s faster and it seems to work better.”

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