Neuroplasticity: How our Brain Learns and Grows
The Neurology Behind How Vision Therapy Works
What is Neuroplasticity?
When learning about vision therapy, one may be skeptical. You may think that you cannot improve your visual functioning, that your visual issue is too severe, or that you’ve had it for too long. However, regardless of the severity or duration of your visual issue, vision therapy has the potential to improve your visual skills due to your brain’s ability of neuroplasticity.
In his article on the Optometrists Network, Dr. Russel Lazarus defines neuroplasticity as “…the brain’s ability to change and adapt in response to new experiences”. Neuroplasticity works by increasing and strengthening the connections between neurons in the brain.
How does Neuroplasticity Play a Part in Vision Therapy?
In 1949, famous neuropsychologist Donald Hebb quotes, “Neurons that fire together wire together”. This means that when an experience is repeated over and over, neurons become associated together in the brain and reinforce neural connections. After enough repetition, the brain knows to trigger that same neural network when confronted with the same experience.
During vision therapy sessions, we consistently work on tasks that target a specific visual need, and repeat that process throughout the course of therapy. As a patient progresses, visual skills may become easier and more efficient because the brain is learning and strengthening its neural pathways.
Neuroplasticity in Children versus Adults
Although all brains have the ability to learn and change, neuroplasticity does change with age. Generally, children’s brains are more plastic than adults, making it easier to correct visual issues, according to Vivid Vision² in their article on neuroplasticity. However, this does not mean that adults cannot overcome their visual issues, as well. Incredibly, our brains can continue to form new neural pathways throughout our entire lives. With time and effort, adults can successfully improve their visual functioning. Susan Barry, also known as Stereo Sue, is a woman who found the ability to perceive depth at 48 years of age. How did she do it? Through vision therapy.
Sue was born with and grew up with crossed eyes. Although she had surgery to straighten them, her eyes never developed the ability to see in 3-D. She couldn’t differentiate between a smudge on the mirror from a smudge on her face. Reading was difficult for her. She had no concept of space. Everything in Sue’s world was flat.
When she began vision therapy late into adulthood, Sue first learned how to point both eyes at the same spot at the same time through the use of different tools. Over time, she noticed her depth perception was changing. Sue could now see the space between snowflakes falling from the sky. She could see her sink faucet jutting out towards her. At 48 years old, Sue was astonished at the advancements she had made in her vision. She went on to write a book about her visual journey called “Fixing My Gaze”. She has delivered TedTalks, interviews, and more recently, another book about the importance of our senses. Even though she had this severe visual condition for her entire life, Stereo Sue exhibits the promise of vision therapy and the incredible power of neuroplasticity.
How to improve neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity is a naturally occurring phenomenon, but there are ways to enhance our potential for neuroplasticity throughout life. Some factors that can improve the potential for neuroplasticity are:
- Regular exercise
- Quality diet
- Lower stress levels
- Adequate sleep
- Enriched environment (new and challenging tasks)
Learn more about the information in this post by visiting these sites!
Vivid Vision ²
Stereo Sue Barry’s Story ³
Remember, it’s never too late to improve your vision! If you are interested in vision therapy for you or your child, call our office at (402) 502-0043 or contact us at https://www.visualintegrationcenter.com/request-appointment/ to schedule an appointment.