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Blindsight: The Fascinating and Amazing Importance of the Connection Between Your Eyes and Your Brain

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Blindsight: The Fascinating Importance of the Connection Between your Eyes and your Brain

It was once believed that it was impossible to regain sight once it was lost. Although that may be true if the eyes or optical nerve are injured, researchers have demonstrated that some degree of sight can be restored in people who experience cortical blindness. The phenomenon, called blindsight, is proof of the brain's ability to adapt and change.

What is Blindsight?

Good vision depends on complex interactions between your eyes and your brain. Impulses from your retina are sent to the brain via the optic nerve. Once the brain receives the impulses, it instantly transforms them into images. Any disruption in the path the impulses follow can lead to vision issues.

Vision problems can occur if the primary visual cortex (V1), located at the back of the brain, is damaged. Without a working cortex, impulses are never turned into images and blindness occurs. If damage occurs in only one part of the cortex, it's possible to retain some sight, although you might experience a blind spot in your vision.

Blindsight occurs when you can respond to visual stimuli even if you aren't aware that you can see it. For example, someone who has a blind spot in their right visual field due to a V1 injury may be able to detect motion or stimuli in that area, even though they don't feel that they can see anything.

Does Research Support Blindsight?

In 1973, psychologists at London's National Hospital began working with D.B., a patient whose visual cortex was damaged after the removal of a brain tumor. D.B. couldn't see objects in his left visual field due to damage in the right visual cortex. The researchers wondered if D.B. might have more usable vision than he realized. They created a few tests to determine if their hunch was correct.

During one of the tests, D.B. was asked to note when he saw a circle appear on a screen. Although D.B. thought the test was pointless, he agreed to try. Surprisingly, he correctly identified the position of the circles most of the time.

The discovery led researchers to theorize that the brain can rewire itself if any of the structures in the brain responsible for vision are damaged. This was a huge discovery, as it was previously believed that the brain didn't possess this level of adaptability.

Other tests of blindsight have taken place in the years since the first experiment occurred. in 2008, researchers wanted to find out if a man who couldn't see at all had any blindsight. A series of strokes had damaged the entire visual cortex, leaving the man blind. During the experiment, researchers filled a hallway with furniture, then asked the man to walk through it without using his cane. Despite his complete loss of vision, he was able to navigate the passage without running into a single object.

Blindsight may also permit people with visual cortex damage to read expressions. Studies have shown that some people who have cortical blindness can distinguish various emotions when presented with pictures of a series of facial expressions.

Vision Therapy Can Help People Take Advantage of Their Blindsight

Not surprisingly, people who've experienced damage to their visual cortex are often desperate to regain even the smallest amount of usable vision. Vision therapy may help enhance the eye/brain connection and improve vision, even in people who have suffered severe injuries.

The therapy is often used when strokes damage the primary visual cortex. Stroke patients who participated in a research project at the University Rochester correctly identified the location of a series of moving dots 80 to 90 percent of the time after practicing for months.

Vision therapists use similar activities to help improve the connection between the brain and the eyes and strengthen pathways that are crucial to good vision. Although it may not always be possible to achieve full vision if you have cortical damage, vision therapy may help fill in the blanks in your visual field and improve your quality of life.

Whether you've experienced damage to your visual cortex, or you suffer from strabismus, amblyopia, double vision, difficulty concentrating, frequent eyestrain or other issues, vision therapy can offer an effective solution for your visual problems. If you're interested in improving your vision with vision therapy, contact us to schedule an appointment.


BBC: Blindsight: The Strangest Form of Consciousness, 9/28/15


National Science Foundation: Seeing Beyond the Visual Cortex, 4/12/12


University of Rochester Medical Center: Rigorous Visual Training Teaches the Brain to See Again After Stroke, 3/31/09


Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences of the United States of America, 12/7/10


Current Biology: Intact Navigation Skills After Bilateral Loss of Striate Cortex, 11/08



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    After vision therapy our daughter went from needing extra help with reading to reading above grade level. She is now excelling in softball and has been named to the All-Star Team this year. She has become more confident and willing to try new things."
    "We can't thank Dr. Gordon's office enough for our daughter's success."
    Drew D.
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    I'm also on the Honor Roll at school too!"
    Elizabeth S.
  • "Our son was in 2nd grade when we found out that he had vision problems. He was referred to the occupational therapist in school for his handwriting. After her testing she called to tell us that all of signs were related to vision problems. Our son complained of headaches, motion sickness and very bad handwriting.
    Most of his teachers were telling us they thought he had ADD or ADHD.
    His attention span in school was short and he rushed through his work. He absolutely hated anything that had to do with writing.
    After starting vision therapy we saw improvements very quickly; as well as his teachers. His handwriting has improved tremendously and his posture is much better.
    We are so thankful for the occupational therapist discovering his vision challenge. We drove an hour and a half each way to Dr. Gordon's office for our weekly vision therapy sessions.
    The success of our son was well worth the drive."
    Amber W.
  • "What a difference! It has been an emotional roller coaster dealing with certain aspects of our son's left. But it was refreshing to know that we could count on the staff administering vision therapy to have his best interest in mind. To watch our son overcome the obstacles he had prior to vision therapy is worth everything. We absolutely recommend vision therapy because we have seen what it can do for our child. We are grateful for vision therapy and couldn't imagine his life without it!"
    Jerome K.
  • "I saw words differently and struggled throughout my childhood with my sight. After years of testing and appointments I found Dr. Gordon who diagnosed a Convergence Insufficiency. After a few months of vision therapy I was amazed at the my improvement.
    My life is truly changed!"
    Ella S.
  • "My son has always struggled in school. As an educator I looked for answers based on what I knew; learning disabilities, ADHD, etc. By the time he was in 4th grade I had to find some way to help my son. I realized that many of his symptoms were similar to many of my students who had Central Auditory Processing difficulties. Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center confirmed the diagnosis and recommended a visual processing evaluation. No one ever considered his reading challenges to be related to a visual processing problem. Since starting vision therapy his struggles in school have decreased, his math grades have improved as well as his reading; and he is more confident in his ability to succeed."
    Joanne L.
  • "Dr. Gordon is a developmental optometrist, which means...he is trained to deal with eye dysfunctions beyond simple near-sightedness/far-sightedness and...he can help improve vision through behavior programs. Dr. Gordon patiently worked with me to get the best possible prescription...He's a compassionate and very competent eyecare professional, and I strongly recommend him."
    Michael L.