Playing Tetris "could cure children of lazy eye" and spell the end for embarrassing eye patches

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Playing Tetris 'could cure children of lazy eye' and spell the end for embarrassing eye patches

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UPDATED:

09:19 GMT, 5 April 2012

For generations, children have been warned that sitting in front of a screen for too long will give them square eyes.

But an hour a day spent playing computer games can actually help to cure a lazy eye, a groundbreaking study has shown.

The traditional treatment for amblyopia –
or lazy eye – is an eye patch over the good eye to force the other to
work harder. However, this can lead to bullying, so the patches are
often removed by youngsters who cannot cope with the poor vision from
their lazy eye.

Calum puts the game through its paces with Dr Anita Simmers and Pamela Knox

Pilot project: Calum puts the game through its paces with Dr Anita Simmers and Pamela Knox (right)

But in tests more than half of children who played a computer game similar to puzzle block video game Tetris saw their vision restored instantly, while some were able to see in 3D for the first time.

Better still, it works on older children, overturning the belief that only children under seven can be treated for lazy eyes.

Tetris blocks could only be seen using the left eye and the wall the blocks fell into were only visible from the right eye

Tetris blocks could only be seen using the left eye and the wall the blocks fell into were only visible from the right eye

Dr Anita Simmers, the researcher at Glasgow Caledonian University behind the trial, said: 'This is an extremely encouraging study. To treat a lazy eye with a patch we need to get children to do intense visual work because if you use the eye it will get better.

'But it was very difficult to get young children to do that. It is much easier to get a child to sit for an hour in front of a computer game.'

Dr Simmers added: 'Not only that, but we managed to help children see better, to get more depth in their view and to make motor tasks easier for them.'

Up to four in 100 children are born with amblyopia, caused by a misalignment of the eyes or one eye focusing better than the other.

The difference in sight between the two eyes leads to abnormal development of the visual centres of the brain and, if left untreated, can cause permanent sight problems.

For the study, 14 children were asked to play a computer game similar to Tetris while wearing gaming goggles.

The goggles work so the falling
Tetris blocks could only be seen using the left eye and the wall the
blocks fell into were only visible from the right eye. To win the game,
both eyes had to be working hard.

The
results were astounding, with 54 per cent of the schoolchildren able to
see better after only five hours, half improving their 3D vision and 20
per cent being given depth perception for the first time.

Dr Simmers said: 'Usually any treatment given comes earlier, before a child turns seven.

'If you weren’t treated very young, the damage was thought to be irreversible. The fact these children have improved vision shows the potential to use both eyes and that the brain can continue to learn new ways of seeing well beyond the childhood years.'

Calum, like four per cent of the population, is affected by amblyopia

Calum, like four per cent of the population, is affected by amblyopia

The research, published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, has been welcomed by charities for the visually impaired.

Dr Dolores Conroy, director of research at Fight for Sight which has helped fund the study, said: 'These encouraging findings bring us a step closer to a more effective way of treating amblyopia.

'Currently it may take months for children with this condition to see any improvement.

'We hope that through the development of this treatment, the sight of children with amblyopia can be recovered much more rapidly.'