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Health
Using Tetris to Treat Kids With “Lazy Eye”
April 23, 2013
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Dr. Robert Hess of McGill University demonstrates the use of goggles and Tetris to treat "lazy eye"

It's a bit of a puzzler, but it seems playing Tetris can help treat "lazy eye".

Researchers at McGill University in Montreal found that the old school video game can train eyes to work together.

In a series of experiments, 18 adult volunteers with "lazy eye" (medically known as amblyopia) played the game for an hour a day for two weeks.

Half of them wore a patch over their stronger eye (which is the standard therapy for "lazy eye").

The others wore special goggles that altered their vision so that each eye saw a different part of the game.

One eye only saw the falling objects, while the other eye only saw the blocks that eventually build up on the ground.

That essentially forced the brain to process information from both eyes in order to play the game.

After several weeks of playing with the goggles, "the two eyes get used to working together... and the vision in the amblyopia eye becomes much better," said Dr. Robert Hess, director of research in the ophthalmology department at McGill.

The people who wore the eye patch didn't have any significant improvement. But when they got a go with the goggles, their vision improved.

"This treatment is much better than patching - it is much more enjoyable, it is faster and it seems to work better," Hess told The Globe & Mail.

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And he said any number of computer games could work - not just Tetris. Anything, he said, that gets the two eyes working together.

Lazy eye or amblyopia affects about 3 per cent of the population or approximately 2 to 3 of every 100 children.

It starts in babies and as the Globe explains it, "one eye does not move in the correct direction, or has trouble focusing, or both. Over time, the dominant eye takes over and the brain stops registering signals from the weaker eye."

Left untreated it can result in permanent loss of vision.

Usually, children with the condition have to wear an eye patch over their good eye for six months, at least six hours a day.

As you might imagine, wearing an eye patch can be frustrating and annoying for youngsters.

According to Hess, kids "get teased for wearing a patch and it doesn't work at all in adults."

Hess said more data is needed before doctors apply this new therapy to children.

Ten-year-old Calum Stillie, who participated in a similar study at Glasgow Caledonian University, found his sight was much better after playing Tetris for just a week.

As he put it, "I realized that I wasn't falling over as much."

That study appears in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, while Dr. Hess' work is in the journal Current Biology.

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