Dr. Rick Graebe: Virtual Reality Can Improve Vision

If technological advances can improve outcomes for his patients, you can bet that Dr. Rick Graebe of Versailles is on the case.

The behavioral optometrist’s restless intelligence makes him vigilant about maximizing results for patients.

That’s why he is a leading practitioner of Vision Therapy, a kind of physical therapy for the eyes, brain and body that addresses the entire visual system.

Unlike many optometrists who rely on the eye chart test only, Dr. Graebe works on visual efficiency (how well the eyes and muscles function) and vision processing (how well the brain understands information the eyes transmit).

Dr. Graebe’s toolbox is chock full of techniques and devices including computers, colored lenses, eye patches and even balance beams.

Add the latest technological advance to that toolkit.

In February, Dr. Graebe purchased Vivid Vision, which uses virtual reality headsets like Oculus Rift to treat amblyopia (lazy eye), strabismus (eye misalignment) and convergence disorders (eyes that don’t work in tandem).

Vivid Vision founder James Blaha suffered from lazy eye and used his expertise as a video game programmer to develop Vivid Vision.

Here’s how it works. While wearing virtual reality goggles and earphones, a patient is immersed in a new reality.

During the playing of a game, specific images are sent to each eye in an effort to train the lazy or crossed eye to work harder. This not only trains the eye but trains the brain.

With amblyopia, for example, the brain has learned that information from the lazy eye is not useful so it ignores messages from that eye, further weakening it.

Because this impairs depth perception, a person with lazy eye doesn’t really know what 3-D vision looks like.

Vivid Vision’s 3-D environment provides feedback with the goal of getting the eyes to track and team together (visual efficiency). This is often an underlying condition for poor reading skills.

Dr. Graebe is quick to point out that technology alone is no panacea. Like all techniques, it relies on the skill of the professional using it.

“It’s like if I use John Calipari’s whistle and clipboard, I’m not going to be a Hall of Fame basketball coach,” Dr. Graebe said. “He has the expertise to use those tools. We do the same with Vivid Vision, monitoring a patient’s progress.

“This is another tool to help open doors for patients by making sure their performance equals their potential.”