ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) — According to the CDC, approximately 795,000 people suffer from a stroke every year. Around half of those people see vision loss because of it. As of now, the only recovery is to live with that impaired vision. New research at the University of Rochester shows that we can do better. 

Physical therapy is given to a stroke patient and can often work well. Doctors at URMC want to offer those patients with vision loss even more. Krystel Huxlin is a James V. Aquavella professor of ophthalmology and director of research that has focused on helping stroke victims recover their vision.  

“People who have a stroke to a different part of the brain, the visual part of the brain,” said Huxlin, “There is nothing for them, so they’re typically diagnosed, and sent home, and told to basically learn to be blind.” 

Traditional therapy will teach how to use the vision leftover. Huxlin has worked to teach the brain to build back that vision loss. First it was in patients over six months after their occipital stroke. “You have to force the blind field to do the job, and that means you have to control where the eyes are, very precisely. 

Months of training in a research capacity with patients all over the world consisted of daily ‘workouts’ lasting about an hour. The patient would use their peripheral vision to pick out patterns that were uniquely placed in areas of vision loss based on a brain scan. 

Elizabeth Saionz just defended her PhD thesis that focused on helping stroke patients regain vision within three months of the stroke. “Patient could recover more vision, they could recover it faster, and they could recover it over a wider range of visual abilities,” said Saionz. 

Reading and driving were only a few of the skills that patients would regain with these extremely successful experiments. While some patients may see immediate change, others see slower change, like a child growing, according to Saionz. “It’s nice to see all your excel spreadsheets with all of the data, but it’s really exciting when someone tells you how much this has changed their life.” 

The work has helped over two hundred patients in a research setting, but the therapy is not yet FDA approved, so it will take many months before it becomes widely available to the public. You can get more information by reaching out to Dr. Huxlin here.