The Impact of Brain Injuries on Vision
While studies show that 90% of all traumatic brain injury patients suffer from visual difficulties, visual function is often overlooked when diagnosing brain injury symptoms (Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association). Symptoms are not always apparent and may be conflated with other symptoms, such as cognitive function, when testing requires visual components.
While symptoms of concussions or mTBIs resolve in the majority of individuals after three months post-injury, persisting symptoms (referred to as post-concussion syndrome) occur in about 15% of individuals.
Change in vision or vision loss can have a major impact on all aspects of life, including work. When returning to work after a concussion, employees and employers should be aware of possible limitations that could impact the worker’s ability to complete certain job tasks.
For more information on brain injuries and minimizing the risk of concussions, read Part 1: Brain Injury Awareness Month.
To learn more about how concussions impact cognition, read Returning to Work After a Concussion? Here’s What You Should Know.
How Do Concussions Impact Vision?
Those who have experienced a traumatic brain injury may experience some of the following vision dysfunctions:
- Visual field loss
- Double vision
- Poor visual acuity
- Ambient vision disturbances causing visual balance disorders
- Eye pain and headaches
- Visual hallucinations
- Difficulty focusing on objects
- Sensitivity to light
What Does This Mean for Work?
Vision dysfunction makes it difficult to read, watch TV, and use the computer. It can also cause dizziness and balance issues. This may cause functional difficulties in completing work tasks, which should be assessed by an Occupational Therapist to determine possible accommodations and strategies for return to work. The goal of implementing these strategies is to help reduce how hard the brain has to work to take in information and ultimately increase the tolerance for tasks.
Employees who have experienced concussions should resume pre-injury activities within the first few days to weeks of their injury, as activity is more likely to speed up rather than delay recovery (Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, 2018). However, this physical and cognitive return to activity should be gradual in order to avoid symptom aggravation and worse outcomes for the affected employee.
Assessing the Employee
A comprehensive assessment of an employee’s physical, visual, cognitive, and behavioural capabilities will determine their fitness for work. An Occupational Therapist can help employees who have visual impairments perform their work duties by making changes to the workstation or environment or with tools and other accommodations. An ergonomic assessment can also help ensure the employee is practicing healthy and safe eye protocols. An accommodation assessment will help determine what tools are necessary to assist an employee with specific visual needs when completing the demands of the job.
What Can Employees Do?
Here are some strategies that employees can try at home/work to manage their vision problems:
- Take breaks when doing tasks that rely on vision. Follow the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Reduce glare on your computer screen by making changes to your physical environment (adjusting your monitor, closing the curtains) or by using non-glare filters on your screen.
- Apply proper ergonomics to your workstation. Set your screen within arm’s reach and make sure the top of the screen falls in line with your eyebrow. This will ensure that you are the proper viewing distance from your screen and will help you avoid eye and body strain.
- Use magnifying devices to increase the size of text or increase the font size on your screen.
- Use eye drops to keep your eyes moist, at the discretion of a healthcare professional.
- Reduce visual overload on your screen and in your physical environment.
(Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association.)
What Can Employers Do?
- Provide employees with simple strategies such as the 20/20/20 rule and other eye stretching and care tips.
- Encourage employees to pace themselves and take their breaks.
- Provide employees with ergonomic tips to help them avoid eye and body strain. Get an ergonomic assessment from an Occupational Therapist to help assess the workstation and provide strategies and recommendations.
- Get a functional cognitive assessment of the employee’s cognitive ability so that you can customize strategies and allow the employee to stay productive. Make a referral to get an assessment from a trained Occupational Therapist.
How Can Gowan Consulting Help?
If employees are having visual complications and it is impacting their ability to succeed in the workplace, Gowan Consulting can help! Our Occupational Therapists can help employees who have visual impairment perform their work duties by making changes to the workstation or environment or with tools and other accommodations. These solutions can be put in place after a comprehensive assessment of the work, workplace, and employee.
If you need an optometrist or low-vision specialist with the expertise to do a comprehensive assessment of an employee’s vision, Gowan Consulting will connect you with a qualified specialist who can determine an individual’s visual ability in relation to a job’s requirements.
To ensure a healthy fit for employees working in more visually demanding positions, such as technology, quality, inspection, or precision manufacturing, Gowan Consulting can develop a preplacement vision screening process.
AccuVision. Traumatic/Acquired Brain Injury. https://www.accuvision.com/Content/visiontherapy/braininjuries.aspx#:~:text=Visual%20Midline%20Shift%20Syndrome%20results%20from%20dysfunction%20of,in%20their%20concept%20of%20their%20perceived%20visual%20midline.
Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation. (May 2018). Guidelines for Concussion/Mild Traumatic Brain Injury & Persistent Symptoms. https://braininjuryguidelines.org/concussion/fileadmin/Guidelines_components/12sections/Section_12.pdf
Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association. About Brain Injuries & Vision. https://noravisionrehab.org/patients-caregivers/about-brain-injuries-vision