For vision disorders in Down syndrome patients, researchers investigate new strategies

By: Emily Lunardo | Brain Function | Friday, February 05, 2016 - 11:00 AM

vision-disorders-in-down-syndrome-patientsVision disorders in Down syndrome patients prompted researchers to investigate new strategies in order to improve sight. Researchers from the University of Houston’s College of Optometry have found a new computer-simulated prescribing strategy for glasses which can improve vision in Down syndrome patients.

Over 400,000 Americans have Down syndrome, which is a genetic disorder leading to poor muscle tone, intellectual disability, and visual defects. Oftentimes, Down syndrome patients require strong eye glasses prescriptions, and misalignment of the eyes can reduce vision even with corrective lenses.

Principal investigator Heather Anderson said, “The motivation for our study is a recent finding that individuals with Down syndrome have increased levels of distortions in the optics of their eyes that we believe leads to poorer visual acuity with current spectacle prescribing methods than the typical patient eye with fewer distortions. We hope to demonstrate improved acuity with prescribing strategies that are derived when considering these higher level optical distortions.”

The study, which consists of three phases, will take place over the course of five years. Researchers will compare performance of clinically derived prescriptions to computationally derived prescriptions, which take into account distortions of the eye.

The process will involve a regular eye exam, which we are all familiar with, along with added components in order for clinicians to identify combinations that can help to better improve vision.

Anderson added, “We will then dispense spectacles determined both by computational analysis, as well as from examinations by experienced clinicians, to determine whether the computational method can outperform current clinical techniques in both visual acuity achieved and patient preference. If we find the mathematically derived prescriptions perform better for participants with Down syndrome than those resulting from current clinical techniques, the next step will be to conduct a large-scale, multi-center clinical trial.”

Adults with Down syndrome and associated ophthalmic disorders

Ophthalmic disorders in adults with Down syndrome are not as frequently studied as ophthalmic disorders in Down syndrome children. An in-depth analysis of research on adult Down syndrome and ophthalmic disorders uncovered that it is far more common than believed.

Cataracts were found to be the most common disorder, followed by refractive errors, strabismus, and presbyopia. Intellectual disability was not found to be a contributing factor to worsened vision problems.

With such high prevalence of ophthalmic disorders in adult Down syndrome, it puts focus on a strong need for more research to take place in this area in order to improve vision outcomes for these patients.

Down syndrome and increased risk of vision disorders in children

It is well known that individuals with Down syndrome are at a greater risk for vision disorders, especially children. Many of these eye disorders can be treated and, if detected early on, can be addressed to improve the child’s quality of life.

Common eye disorders in Down syndrome children include:

  • Refractive errors, like near-sighted, far-sighted, or astigmatism
  • Strabismus, which is misalignment of the eyes
  • Blepharitis, which is inflammation of the eyelids with redness and crusting around the lashes at the edge of the lids
  • Tearing
  • Nystagmus, which is an involuntary back and forth motion of the eyes as if the eyes are shaking
  • Keratoconus, which is a cone-shaped distortion of the cornea
  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma

A child with Down syndrome should get eye exams regularly and visit an ophthalmologist who is experienced with eye exams in children with disabilities. Down syndrome children can begin receiving eye exams as early as six months old.

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