It’s an all too-familiar picture: a group of middle-aged people huddled in a restaurant struggling to read the menu. Some feeling their arms are too short; others squinting, moving their arms in and out in what’s been coined the “trombone syndrome.” Still others, rifling through purses or pockets for reading glasses.
What’s going on? They’ve hit their mid-40s or early 50s. That’s when the eyes start to lose the ability to see clearly up close. Commonly known as middle-aged sight, the medical term for the condition is called presbyopia, from the Greek word for “aging eye,” or “old eye.”
Presbyopia affects over 100 million adults in the U.S. This year, according to presbyopia.org, over nine million more Americans will start holding their books and newspapers a little farther away from their faces in order to see them clearly.
“Reduced vision,” it turns out, is women’s third top health concern after heart disease and aging, a Varilux Boomer Watch survey reported. Another survey, by the U.S. National Eye Institute, showed vision “the most highly valued of the senses,” but concluded most people take better care of their cars than their eyes.
Most eye doctors will tell you that there is no remedy for presbyopia except surgery or corrective lenses.
Julie-Ann Zilavy, a New York businesswoman, found herself struggling to see print clearly about six months ago. Her gut feeling was that once she started using glasses, her eyes would get more and more dependent on them. And she wasn’t interested in the risk of surgery.
Surgical remedies for presbyopia include conductive keratoplasty (CK), which costs up to $2,500 and is not covered by health insurance. Performed on one eye only, an FDA panel warned that CK “may affect [a patient’s] depth perception” and thus could present a driving hazard. For 99% of CK patients, results only last between three and five years, then wear off, and the procedure needs to be repeated, up to a maximum of three times.
Behavioral optometrist Dr. Carl F. Gruning, of Southport, Connecticut, a full clinical professor at SUNY College of Optometry and one of the world’s leading practitioners in the field of vision therapy, is not recommending CK surgery yet. He tells his patients, “it’s relatively new, and not to rush in.”
Ms. Zilavy sought a natural alternative. She found Dr. Ray Gottlieb’s method to read without glasses.
Dr. Ray Gottlieb, O.D., Ph.D., F.C.O.V.D., is a vision therapy optometrist in Rochester, New York. His work challenges conventional thinking about vision, including the notion that aging eyes need glasses to read.
“I’ve seen my patients improve their near vision, avoid reading glasses, get free of them or need weaker ones,” says Dr. Gottlieb, who is also Dean of the College of Syntonic Optometry.
Dr. Gottlieb discovered the genesis of what would become his groundbreaking method almost 30 years ago when he was seeking to help a 52-year-old patient recover his ability to read without bifocals.
“The mechanism that causes the eyes to focus clearly at near is called accommodation,” he says. “In young people, when an image becomes blurred, the eyes sharpen focus easily and automatically. But with age, accommodation loses power and the blurred image is not enough to stimulate accommodation on its own.”
It occurred to Dr. Gottlieb that another ocular action – convergence – also stimulates accommodation. “In order to see up close, we turn, or converge, both eyes inward, so that together they point at what we are trying to see,” he says. “Turning our eyes inward also stimulates their ability to focus clearly at near, which happens through a different mechanism known as convergence-accommodation.”
So, Dr. Gottlieb designed a carefully made chart which caused his patient’s eyes to converge strongly and found that this allowed his patient to see clearly at near. With practice, in just a few weeks, his patient returned to announce that his problem had been solved, and he no longer needed glasses to see clearly at near. “The improvement lasted for years,” he says.
Dr. Gottlieb’s method, once only available in a one-on-one doctor-patient setting, has now been developed into an at home program. Eye exercises can be can be learned at home by watching an instructional video, and then be used anywhere – even on the go – at almost any time.
“Now it is much easier to see,” Ms. Zilavy says, “I can read a lot more of the smaller print. The method is simple to learn. Practice is easy. I spend about four minutes a day with it, usually when I’m eating breakfast. I am getting good results with a minimum of time.”
Just as we stretch, flex and exercise our bodies to fend off aging, Ms. Zilavy found that her eyes – like the rest of her body – can benefit from exercise, re-training and relaxation.
And just as convergence is a key element, so is its opposite – divergence, which allows the eye muscles to relax so the eyes straighten for distance viewing. Conscious relaxation of your body, including your neck and shoulders, and your breathing are important elements of Dr. Gottlieb’s method to read without glasses.
The method will not work for the small percentage of people who have only one functioning eye, lazy eye, eye-turning problems or severe low vision.
Dr. Jacob Liberman, author of Take Off Your Glasses and See and Light: Medicine of the Future, who has used it, says “The method (available at withoutglasses.com) combines the best of optometric vision therapy and natural vision exercises to create a simple and effective way to sharpen your vision.”
The prevailing belief that the only solution to this problem is stronger and stronger reading glasses, bifocals or surgery is changing. Dr. Gottlieb, 63, who has never needed reading glasses, is testimony himself.