In Virtual Reality, San Diego Scientist Sees Tool To Help The Visually Impaired
By David Wagner
Lately, entertainment companies of all stripes have been investing in virtual reality, hoping to immerse players within video games, and to put fans courtside at major league events.
But virtual reality can be more than just fun and games, according to a UC San Diego doctor using a cheap new headset with patients in mind.
Dr. Felipe Medeiros is an ophthalmologist and a professor who treats glaucoma patients like 63-year-old Melinda Person. He’s trying to develop better ways of spotting balance problems in his patients.
Person knows first-hand that glaucoma affects balance as well as vision. About a year ago, she was walking to the grocery store two blocks from her home in downtown San Diego. Just like she’d done countless times before, she crossed the street and stepped onto a familiar curb.
At least, she thought she did.
“I’m seriously telling you, I thought I was stepping on the curb,” she said. “It bothers me to think about it right now.”
The curb was actually a step away, and she lost her balance.
“The next thing I knew, I was down on the street.”
Luckily, Person didn’t sustain any major injuries from the fall. But she said it was a harsh reminder that for people with glaucoma, daily life can be dangerous.
Glaucoma attacks the optic nerve. The disease has taken 86 percent of Person’s peripheral vision.
“So I only have what I can see in front of me,” Person said, describing her tunnel vision. “When I’m looking at you, you’re pretty much all I see.”