Scientists help stroke victims look into dark.
Typically, we associate strokes with limb paralysis and impaired speech, but 20% of those who suffer from a stroke will end up with a visual defect called Hemianopia, a partial blindness caused by damage to part of the brain called the primary visual cortex.
Researchers at Durham University have been examining Hemianopia to find new ways to help patients whose vision has been affected by strokes.
Although Hemianopia is not total blindness, it is a very disabling condition. This can leave patients unable to see anything in as much as half of their field of vision, so they have difficulty in locating things, have problems reading and coping with traffic on the street, and can become disoriented in new or crowded environments such as supermarkets.
Durham University's Cognitive Neuroscience Research team based in the Wolfson Research Institute at Queen's Campus, Stockton, has been developing and testing ways of training Hemianopia patients to use their remaining vision in different ways to enable them to cope better with the condition.
Dr Thomas Schenk who is leading the research said: "Hemianopia is incurable as it is impossible to actually repair the brain damage and thus, restore the vision. What we are doing is helping patients use the vision they do have, in a more efficient way to actually compensate for the partial blindness.
"We do this by training them to scan their environment, looking into the blind areas with the part of their eye that functions. This then helps them avoid bumping into obstacles, being able to monitor traffic and also being able to read again. All of which could radically improve the quality of life of a hemianopia sufferer."
Ronald Edwards, 73, from Nunthorpe, Middlesbrough, suffered a stroke three years ago and subsequently had a succession of mini-strokes. He has just completed his treatment at the University and said: "I really enjoyed the training programme, it was very interesting. It made me aware of my shortcomings and helped me concentrate. I scan more now and can see what is there. I used to bump into and trip over things, I was a natural hazard in a shop. Now my confidence in my seeing and walking is restored. I would advise any stroke victim who suffers from visual defects to get involved with the treatment."
At the moment there is no specific treatment for Hemianopia available on the NHS, but Dr Schenk's team hope their new methods of training patients could be offered as an effective treatment.
Dr Daniel Smith, Research Associate at the University said: "While treatments such as physiotherapy are widely available to stroke victims who have problems with movements, the majority of patients who suffer partial blindness as a result of a stroke do not receive any treatment, this is why we started the research."
The training programme teaches patients, in a total of 15 hours, to move their eyes to scan the areas of blindness, so they develop a way of compensating for their visual deficit. The programme doesn't return the patient's vision but teaches them coping strategies to deal with their blind spot.
Daniel added: "Patients with hemianopia typically make many, very small eye movements when looking into their blind field. The treatment teaches people to make much larger eye movements, allowing them to quickly scan more of their environment. This will help them build a more comprehensive view of the world around them and avoid bumping into objects.
"We are only in the development stages, but once we have demonstrated that these rehabilitation techniques work, our long-term goal is to see the treatment available on the NHS."
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|Publication:||The Journal (Newcastle, England)|
|Date:||Jul 17, 2006|
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