Objectives: We describe a novel rehabilitation tool for patients with homonymous hemianopia based on a visual search (VS) paradigm that is portable, inexpensive, and easy to deploy. We hypothesised that by training patients to improve the efficiency of eye movements made in their blind field their disability would be alleviated.
Methods: Twenty nine patients with homonymous visual field defects (HVFD) without neglect practised VS paradigms in 20 daily sessions over one month. Search fields comprising randomly positioned target and distracter elements, differing by a single feature, were displayed for three seconds on a dedicated television monitor in the patients’ homes.
Improvements were assessed by examining response time (RT), error rates in VS, perimetric visual fields (VFs) and visual search fields (VSFs), before and after treatment. Functional improvements were measured using objective visual tasks which represented activities of daily living (ADL) and a subjective questionnaire.
Results: As a group the patients had significantly shorter mean RT in VS after training (p<0.001) and demonstrated a variety of mechanisms to account for this. Improvements were confined to the training period and maintained at follow up. Three patients had significantly longer RT after training. They had high initial error rates which improved with training. Patients performed ADL tasks significantly faster after training and reported significant subjective improvements. There was no concomitant enlargement of the VF, but there was a small but significant enlargement of the VSF.
Conclusion: Patients can improve VS with practice. This usually involves shorter RTs, but occasionally a longer RT in a complex speed–accuracy trade-off. These changes translate to improved overall visual function, assessed objectively and subjectively, suggesting that they represent robust training effects. The underlying mechanism may involve the adoption of compensatory eye movement strategies.
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We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Stroke Association (5/97) and the Wellcome Trust (037222) in funding this research.
Competing interests: none declared
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