Dr. Keith Smithson, O.D., is a pediatric and sports vision specialist. He is the Director of Visual Performance for the Washington Nationals, as well as the Team Optometrist for the Washington Wizards, Washington Mystics, Washington Spirit and DC United. Dr. Smithson helps athletes who want to gain a competitive edge through enhanced visual performance.
Learning and implementing new technologies is huge if you want to stay ahead of the game. Over the last 15 years I’ve built up a core battery of technologies for vision related training, testing and health, along with neurocognitive enhancement. As a vision specialist, part of my role is spearheading the use of emerging technologies for performance and therapy.
‘Must-Have’ Technological Tool
I’ve spent 3 years using NeuroTracker for performance, vision enhancement, and concussion rehabilitation. It’s a wonderful technology which quickly became a ‘must-have’ tool as part of our practice. The sports performance role for NeuroTracker was already well-known, and applying it for training NBA, NFL, MLS, and MLB athletes we made great strides. Once these athletes see the difference NeuroTracker is making on the field, they become completely devoted – they want it on the road with them, they want it in their training facility, and we work with those teams to make sure it’s onsite for them. It’s the biggest testimonial for a training tool when your clients say ‘Look, I can’t live without this,’ which is great confirmation for us.
What’s less well-known is the application of NeuroTracker for therapy. We treat a very wide range of patients suffering from concussions, and with severe cases we see patients who have significant symptoms 6-8 months after injury.
These affect almost all aspects of life so we need to monitor therapy effects all the way to the end point of recovery. Symptoms can involve optic distortions, ocular-muscular problems, multiple object tracking deficiencies, as well as sensory integration and overload issues. We have a range of interventions we use specialized for dealing with each of these effects, but NeuroTracker has become an important tool for us in many of our post-concussion recovery sessions.
Neurological Change & Numerical Data
I recently presented at a conference on this role because I think it’s important practitioners realize this can become an exceptional part of their practice. One of the key benefits of NeuroTracker is we’re not just asking the athlete or patient how they feel, we’re truly looking at neurological change correlated by numerical change in data, so we can quantify the intervention and correlate with subjective assessments.
Most importantly we see the beneficial effects. Patients make gains from NeuroTracking by building back neural networks and skillsets that were deficient. It helps a lot that we can adapt the training difficulty to any patients’ condition in short, manageable chunks with constant revaluation.
Assisting recovery neurocognitively really helps with getting patients back to doing things that were once automatic, like navigating busy environments, driving a car, functioning in the work day, or being able to handle the sights and sounds of a ball game on the weekend. Sometimes it happens with dramatic changes, an athlete might say they feel like a light’s gone off because they can suddenly process the world and they can handle things they knew they couldn’t do before – changes that are often reflected in the session data.
It’s rare to find a technology that really works like this, and at a practical level, so I’m hoping to see this neurocognitive approach grow in both its role in therapy and in numbers of practitioners.
Keith Smithson, O.D., practices at the North Virginia Doctors of Optometry. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware and Pennsylvania College of Optometry. Dr. Smithson is the Director of Visual Performance for the Washington Nationals, as well as the Team Optometrist for the Washington Wizards, Washington Mystics, Washington Spirit and DC United. In addition, he is a Visual Performance Consultant for the Washington Capitals and Washington Redskins. He is also a Chair Elect for the AOA Sports and Performance Vision Committee.
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