BOSTON – In September 1999, Clark Elliott, PhD, was rear-ended at a stop sign, resulting in a concussion, and his long-term prognosis was grim.
He went from suffering with traumatic brain injury (TBI) for 10 years to fully recovering in 2 years with neuro-optometric brain techniques, he told attendees here at Optometry’s Meeting.
Elliott is an associate professor at DePaul University in Chicago and specializes in artificial intelligence (AI). As a scientist, he was fascinated with the experience and took thousands of pages of notes throughout the process. He wanted to be a champion for neuro-optometric brain techniques, he said.
After his injury, Elliott’s doctors said they did not expect him to recover. He had CT scans and MRIs, and the best neurologists were all in agreement: he was told over and over that a full recovery was impossible. They told him to learn to live with the symptoms.
“And yet, I showed dramatic improvement, 70% recovery in 3 weeks by my own estimation, based on the miracle of how the plastic brain works, and full recovery after 2 years,” Elliott said
After being rear-ended he made three fruitless trips to the emergency room and he experienced persistent symptoms for years. He had the inability to initiate action, a form of catatonia. He could walk up, but not down, the stairs and could not walk past a doorway because he could not spatially separate himself from the doorframe.
Elliot could write, but could not read after 6 months. He almost froze to death while moving slower and slower on a freezing wintry day on Chicago’s blustery campus.
He said his visual system had to take over for his damaged vestibular system so he could stay upright. Also, his eyes had to take over for his ears – this caused competition for scant visual spatial resources, which were also damaged. This resulted in a loss of balance and nausea upon beginning a task that required visualization.
“I could think or stand up, but I couldn’t do both at the same time,” he remarked. “I longed to be human one more time, I longed even to have a bad day; that would be a blessing.”
Yet, he was lucky. In January 2008, his transformation began.
He worked with Donalee Marcus, PhD, and Deborah Zelinski, OD, using neurodevelopmental rehabilitation techniques.
Treatment emphasized neuroplasticity in two ways: Context-free visual puzzles to rebuild cognitive pathways and prescription eyeglasses. These tactics emphasize healthy pathways to the visual cortex and avoid bad areas, he said.
“Fifty percent to even 80% of the brain gets involved in visual spatial processing,” according to Elliot’s own research as a cognitive scientist and AI scientist.
Using the puzzles helped, “turn the dirt roads into super highways” in his brain, he said.
Via optometric treatment, he wore six pairs of eyeglasses over 3 years. The neuro-optometric testing is filled with tasks an OD would recognize, including the King Devick Test, he said.
“We were addressing three categories of retina input: central vision pathway, peripheral vision and the critically important non image-forming retinal pathway,” Elliott added.
“There is a collection of pathways that sets the context and sets the platform for which everything else depends, including our peripheral and center vision, hormones, sleep cycle, hearing, spatial awareness and so on,” he continued. “All humans, including those blind from birth, have the same hardware; it’s a crucial part of what makes us human.”
He believes when this processing gets out of sync it can lead to the alienation and depression he experienced before his treatment began.
Zelinski utilized her Z-Bell test, to link it with 3-D spatial hearing, he said.
“It is my intuition, based on my experience, that neurodevelopmental optometry can treat many of these cases of attention disorder,” he said. – by Abigail Sutton
Elliott C. Through a patient’s eyes. Presented at: Optometry’s Meeting; June 29-July 2, 2016; Boston.
Disclosure: Elliott wrote a book about his experience: The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back.