Scientists Want to Use Video Games to Help Kids' Eyes

When I was a small child my parents would warn me that spending all day in front of the television playing video games would ruin my eyesight. Today researchers at the University of Tennessee Space Institute in Tullahoma have integrated computer games into a device that could be instrumental in saving a child's eyesight.

When did you have your first eye exam? Age eight? Age nine? Age thirteen? Statistics say that 80 percent of children in the U.S. don't get their vision tested until at least kindergarten, and by then it's often too late to catch the early signs of eye-manifesting medical problems. More than just a test for bad vision, a properly administered eye exam can detect the early signs of learning disabilities like dyslexia or neurological disorders such as autism.

According to Ying-Ling Ann Chen research assistant professor in physics at the University of Tennessee, most children don't go to the eye doctor unless their eyes actively hurt. Children don't know what they should be seeing, so they don't know when something has gone awry. To make matters worse, many children's vision exams are delivered improperly.

"Vision screening is important at an early age to detect several different causes of vision disorders," said Chen. "The few children that do get screened today aren't being screened adequately. For instance, many current screening methods do one eye at a time and studies show young eyes will accommodate significantly, and this causes inaccurate results."

Ying-Ling Ann Chen wants to change the way we handle vision care for children, so she's invented a new device that5 utilizes cartoons and interactive computer games to keep children occupied while diagnostic devices do their stuff.

Called the Dynamic Ocular Evaluation System (DOES), the machine Chen and her team have created offers doctors and patients a simple, inexpensive solution to a complicated problem. The child simply sits in front of the machine and either watches a three-minute cartoon or plays a computer game. The DOES does all of the work.

At the beginning of the cartoon, a three-second comprehensive test screens for binocular refractive risks, high-order aberration, scattering, ocular alignment, and significant neural problems. The subsequent dynamic test searches for less significant signs of abnormal ocular alignment, neural responses, amblyopia, and-in the future-mental statuses that include dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and autism. The images and results are digitally recorded and can be electronically transmitted to specialists for referral if necessary.

In short, it gives children something to stare at while we scan them for defects. It's a simple and elegant solution to a rather large national problem.

Chen and team are currently testing the DOES out at the Tullahoma Walmart Vision Center, which I guess is the world's leading Walmart for on-site scientific testing or something. They've got the funding, they have the attention of the vision care industry, so it's only a matter of time before our children start begging us to take them to the eye doctor on a weekly basis.

UT Researchers Develop Comprehensive, Accessible Vision Testing Device [University of Tennessee]