For people other than optometrists and ophthalmologists, it may seem like vision is a simple issue of clarity versus blurriness. Unless things are too blurry to see well, you think you can skip annual visits to the eye doctor.
However, it’s not that simple.
There are many functional skills that underpin good vision, which we mostly take for granted because we don’t have to think about them to do them.
For example, types of visual motor abilities are stereopsis (the ability to see differences in depth), saccades (the ability to scan a field and look quickly between one object and another), and convergence (the ability to adapt your focus as a moving object approaches or recedes).
And there are also many types of visual perception skills, such as figure-ground discrimination (the ability to pick an object out from its background), visual closure (the ability to fill in the missing details when you see only part of an object), and of course hand-eye coordination and body-eye coordination in general.
These and many other specific visual skills all contribute to being able to see accurately and process what you see in real time.
We rely on these visual skills when we do many tasks of daily living, whether at home, work, or school. We also need them to perform well in specific activities like sports and driving. Many close work tasks and hobbies like crafting, sewing, woodworking, and DIY home projects demand visual precision and integration. Even simple tasks like reading and cooking are impossible to do without visual skills like tracking and depth perception.
Like blurriness, issues with these other visual skills can creep up on us slowly over time. An optometrist may notice changes before you do and be able to address the issue before it becomes a problem.
Besides corrective lenses, there are forms of vision therapy, just like there are forms of physical and occupational therapy, that can help a patient build back up any deteriorating visual skills.
The key to the effectiveness for vision therapy, as with many health matters, is early detection and treatment. This is true in particular for children, as their brains and eyes are learning to communicate with each other as they grow and develop. The earlier an issue is detected, the better doctors can help a patient train the eye to healthier behaviors and stronger vision skills.
If you do any of the following activities on a regular basis, it could be beneficial to see your eye care professionals at Bard Optical first to ensure that you are performing at peak visual efficiency and operating from a place of strength.
Good sports performance relies on good visual performance. In fact, we'll go as far as to say that good vision is as important a part of your game as endurance, speed, and strength.
Most athletes hear “keep your eye on the ball” on a regular basis. Acute vision enables players to track the ball, teammates, opposing players, and changing conditions in the blink of an eye, so to speak.
Sports uses a variety of visual skills, from distance perception and visual memory to visual-motor coordination and figure-ground discrimination.
Reading, whether on paper or on computer screen, is a part of daily life. For those with desk jobs, reading from a computer can make up the majority of the workday. This involves the visual skill of tracking, and doing that all day long is hard on our eye muscles, just as it would be for any other muscle group used so frequently.
There are habits that you can practice to cut down on the discomfort that digital eye strain produces, such as looking away every 20 minutes and focusing on an object in the distance over 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This is called the 20-20-20 rule.
You need healthy eyes for hobbies with close work like photography, crafting, sewing, woodworking, model building, painting, or reading sheet music when singing or playing an instrument. All of these activities require fixation, or the visual skill of sustaining focus for long periods of time on the same object.
Those who lack this ability develop nystagmus, or the uncontrollable shaking of the eyes.
Driving and navigating are not only harder to do with poor vision, they are dangerous.
Drivers confront a visual field full of objects constantly changing positions in relation to one another, coming closer and falling away. It is crucial to notice minute changes to the landscape, such as changing traffic lights, other vehicles’ turn signals, and the boundaries between lanes. For this, drivers need good spatial awareness, visual closure, and the visual skill of pursuits (the ability to smoothly follow a moving object in real time without rough or fitful stops and starts).
Many of the visual skills needed for safe driving are not just aspects of our sight itself, but also of our visual processing within the brain and the communication back and forth.
For children, school demands visual performance that goes beyond just reading up close. Students are called upon daily to take notes from the board, watch the teacher demonstrate, participate in group activities, use technology, carry out science experiments, play games at recess and in gym, and even navigate crowded hallways. All of these tasks rely upon the eyes working together as a pair.
Stereopsis gives us depth perception and makes objects in the world take on their 3D quality, but people with binocular vision impairment or more pronounced cases or strabismus (a cause of amblyopia, or lazy eye), have trouble with this. Strabismus is a fairly common childhood eye condition that can be treated more effectively the earlier it is identified.
6. Social Activities
Social activities can be more visual than you might think. We mentioned how crucial good vision is for sports, which is after all a highly social activity. In addition, many people enjoy games like bridge, poker, euchre, mahjong, dominoes, and board games, which all require clear eyesight.
So does reading menus, looking at photos from family and friends, recognizing familiar faces in a crowd, and using phones to look up someone’s number or to send a text message.
Lifelong habits like taking walks, going to religious services, camping, and even participating in book clubs or hobbyist groups are all more difficult when vision is low.
Visual-auditory integration in particular is a skill we need for social situations, as well as fixation, saccades, pursuits, tracking, stereopsis, and so many more.
Keep the fun in your life by keeping your visual perception and visual motor abilities in top form. Check in with your eye doctor annually, and you will be at peak performance in all things visual.