See, Mom: video games are good for your health

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

It doesn’t boast the graphics prowess of, say, Splinter Cell Blacklist, but Tetris, that classic building-block video game that spawned its own world championship tournament, has now been put to use for more altruistic purposes: to help treat “lazy eye” in children and adults.

Amblyopia, which involves one eye not developing properly and having poor vision, affects up to 3 percent of the population, says Dr. Robert Hess, of McGill University and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC). Traditional treatment calls for patching the good eye to force the bad eye to work, but this approach has had only limited success, and usually only in children, Hess said, adding that this form of treatment is often accompanied by teasing in the schoolyard.

“Instead of thinking that the eye is lazy and that is has to be forced to work, we’ve taken a different point of view,” explained Hess, who is the senior author of the paper. “The sighted eye is actively inhibiting the other eye… so we have set out to get the two eyes working together.”

Still better than an eye patch: Dr. Robert Hess demonstrates new treatment of "lazy eye."

To do so, Hess and his colleagues gave head-mounted video goggles to a sample group of research participants and invited them to play an unusual game of Tetris: one eye saw only the Tetris blocks as they fell from the top of the screen and the other eye saw only the blocks already on the ground.

After two weeks, the participants playing the dichoptic game (as the split screen view is called) showed dramatic improvement in vision and 3-D depth perception in the weaker eye.

Hess and his colleagues are currently planning to run a clinical trial across North America later this year to assess how well this treatment works in children.

Now if only they could develop a similar option for Candy Crush…

Read more, including the entire article as it was published in the prestigious journal, Current Biology.

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