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Throw away your reading glasses? Informative Times report on ‘brain-training’ for vision doesn’t quite back up the headline

Rating

5 Star

Categories

Training Your Brain So That You Don’t Need Reading Glasses

Our Review Summary

This column is a thorough first-person account of undergoing a form of app-based “brain training” designed to compensate for the loss of age-related eye lens elasticity and the resulting difficulty of reading small print, especially in low light.

The column wisely notes that the training is laborious, the scientific rationale plausible (it’s been successful for so-called “lazy eye”) if sketchy, and the evidence that it enables people to throw away their bifocals skimpy.

That said, the headline and discussion of evidence left us disappointed. It teased readers with “Training Your Brain So You Don’t Need Reading Glasses,” but didn’t provide evidence that people who need reading glasses could train their brains to not need them.

 

Why This Matters

To be sure, glasses and especially bifocals, transitional lenses, or “readers” can be annoying and inconvenient. And nearly everyone will need them as they age. Therefore, new apps that claim to make reading glasses a thing of the past deserve close scrutiny by the news media.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The column provides clear information about the cost of the app tried by the writer. It would have been strengthened by information about the cost of bifocals and, in particular, over-the-counter drugstore “readers.”

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The article cites a couple of studies that offer qualified support for benefit of the vision training, but specifics were lacking. For example, it says that through use of this training, “presbyopia lessens.” But how much does it lessen?

The piece does describe one small study as finding that older adults who used the training were able to see “low-contrast images” as well as college-aged participants. Does this mean they could read without glasses? And how long do these improvements last? Is continual training required?

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Applicable

It’s hard to imagine what harms there might be, but it would have been helpful to know something about the drop-out rate that would have done at least a bit of financial damage to the trainees.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Satisfactory

The article does a good job putting the scant data into some perspective, and we liked how it explained the iffy scientific rationale for the training in understandable terms.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

Comments about bifocal-wearing contributing to accidents are arguably on the line of disease mongering. In the linked study cited to support this point, there was no statistically significant difference in falls between groups that had bifocals or who wore single lens glasses. But, we’ll give the benefit of the doubt.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

In-depth reporting was clearly undertaken (and independent research is cited) in the process of putting together this piece. Also, the column discloses conflicts of interest within the industry, which is important.

However, the story didn’t include direct quotes from independent sources. The author states that he consulted with experts in this field as part of his research, and that’s another check in the “plus” column. But on the downside, readers don’t know who those sources are or what expertise they bring to bear. From a reader standpoint, this would be useful information to include and it’s important information to look for. Considering all aspects of the issue, we’ll rate this a borderline satisfactory.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story raises the alternatives of bifocals and transitional lenses. It would have been stronger if it had mentioned other alternatives to the app-based brain training, such as simple magnifiers, brighter light, and multifocal lenses now available for those who need cataract surgery.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The story notes that various smartphone apps are available that provide this training and that the author picked the only one that had any supporting scientific evidence.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The article duly notes that such training is trendy and girded by relatively new findings about the plasticity of the brain.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

Although the Glassesoff app team recently issued a media “kit” and news release, the story’s author has clearly been using the product for months. There is much original reporting and we don’t see any evidence that the story relied excessively on a news release.

Total Score: 8 of 9 Satisfactory

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