Some children with vision disorders might earn more parent-approved screen time on their iPads. Research shows that a new iPad game is a much better treatment for lazy eye, or amblyopia, than wearing a traditional eye patch.
Amblyopia occurs in about three of 100 children. It’s a vision disorder where one eye is weaker than the other due to muscle or visual problems.
A study published in JAMA Ophthalmology examined 28 children with lazy eye, who ranged in age from 4 to 10. Part of the group was designated to be treated via the iPad game, and the other children were assigned to the eye patch group.
Game Technology vs. Traditional Treatment
To participate in the game, the kids wore special glasses with red and green lenses, similar to traditional 3D glasses, that separate the game elements seen by each eye. Study author Krista Kelly, a postdoctoral fellow with the Crystal Charity Ball Pediatric Vision Evaluation Center at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest in Dallas, explained that the stronger, healthy eye could see reduced-contrast elements, the amblyopic eye could see high-contrast elements, and both eyes could pick up high-contrast background images. The weaker eye is forced to work harder to keep up.
The iPad group played the game at home one hour a day, five days a week, for two weeks, for a total of 10 hours.
The eye patch group of children, following a traditional treatment plan, wore their eyepatches for two hours a day, seven days a week, for a total of 28 hours. The goal of the patch is to isolate and cover the stronger eye, so the weaker eye works harder to create a stronger eye/brain connection.
The Results: iPad Gamers Had More Success
In two weeks, the lazy eye was noticeably stronger in the iPad game playing group than in the eye patch group. The results were even more impressive because the game group achieved these improvements in less than half the time of the patch group.
“We found that the game was better than patching and children in that group improved twice as much,” Kelly told CBS News.
The eye patch group was later moved into the iPad case study group, and all of the children participants played the game, which consists of miners and animals that have to dig for gold, for two additional weeks. By the fourth week, all of the eye patch group children visually caught up to the gaming group.
Researchers say the iPad vision tests offer better and more consistent options for children with the disorder because it keeps them more interested in the process of receiving treatment.
“I like the beautiful overlay of thinking in this study,” said Swanson. “About knowing what a standard of care is for an intervention and then using a tool to make it more engaging and child centered,” said Swanson.
Up next, researchers want to explore more gaming options and additional mediums to expand treatment for amblyopia. “We want to try adding new games, and we definitely want them to play it more than four weeks,” Kelly said. “They are even looking beyond iPad games, to options like movies.”