Each year, thousands of people are injured in car crashes, falls and workplace accidents because of poor eyesight. One British study found that nearly 3,000 automobile accident injuries a year are caused by people who can’t see well.
And now, apparently, there’s an app for that.
Two new apps, called UltimEyes and GlassesOff, claim they can train you to see better through exercises on your phone or tablet. And the results of the apps’ initial testing are encouraging.
Studies Show Improved Vision
In a study published last month in the journal Current Biology, University of California, Riverside, neuroscientist Aaron Seitz described how he used UltimEyes on 19 players from UC Riverside’s baseball team. He reported that the players lengthened the distance at which they could see clearly by an average of 31 percent. After using the app for 30 25-minute intervals, many of the athletes’ vision scores were better than 20/20. Seven attained 20/7.5 vision – they could see something at 20 feet away that the average person could only see clearly at a distance of 7.5 feet. What’s more, the app improved the team’s baseball scores.
GlassesOff has also reported successes, but with close-up vision. In a study published in Scientific Reports in February 2012, participants could read type that was 1.6 times smaller after using the app. The greatest improvement was in participants ages 40 to 60 – middle-aged people who use reading glasses. Participants’ eye health also improved by 8.6 years on average.
How the Apps Work
Neither UltimEyes nor Glasses Off actually trains the eyes. Instead, they train the brain’s visual cortex. They rely on a concept called neuroplasticity that indicates that with training, the brain can forge new connections. The idea is that these new connections will help the brain process visual information.
In UltimEyes, a user is presented with a series of fuzzy patterns against a gray background and asked to quickly identify them. Practice and speed teach a user to process visual information more quickly.
GlassesOff uses a similar concept. Users take a diagnostic test and are given a training schedule. They then complete visual exercises such as deciphering gray letters on a screen for 12 to 15 minutes a day, three days a week.
While these new apps may help baseball players see better and middle-aged people downscale their reading glasses, there isn’t enough evidence yet to say whether they can improve everyday vision over the long term.
In a Popular Mechanics article about UltimEyes, a scientist from the University of Edinburgh said that the results of the baseball study correlate with other studies. But, she said, scientists still don’t know what exactly is happening in the brain to trigger the changes in vision, why some people’s vision improves more than others, or how long the effects of training may last.
Others caution that the apps are unlikely to cure visual impairments or reverse the loss of eyesight that comes with aging.
If you’d like to give these apps a try, they’re both available from the App Store for iOS devices. But remember that while technology may help, there’s no substitute for regular eye examinations.