Vision loss is a highly significant problem in the veteran population, and the long-term goal of this research is the application of current neuroscientific insights to design novel rehabilitative approaches for visual rehabilitation of veterans with vision loss. The purpose of this SPiRE application is to lay the groundwork for a future Merit Review application examining the utility of adding telerehabilitative spatial cognitive training to orientation and mobility training that is the mainstay of low vision rehabilitation. Spatial cognitive abilities represent an important target for rehabilitation of individuals with vision loss.
Specific Aim I will test the hypothesis that spatial cognitive training of blind veterans on a spatial imagery task leads to improvements in (a) performance on the trained spatial imagery task and (b) real-world navigational ability, relative to a control intervention. If the hypothesis is supported, this would be a simple method of spatial cognitive training with real-world benefits that can be administered via telemedicine.
Specific Aim II will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess the neural changes associated with spatial cognitive training. The hypothesis is that those in the spatial cognitive training group will show enhanced activation in brain regions mediating spatial processing, such as the hippocampus and parietal cortex, as well as more differentiated neural representations of imagined paths. The benefit of pinpointing the neural loci of change is the identification of potential targets for application of converging rehabilitation approaches, e.g. transcranial magnetic or electrical stimulation over parietal regions; enhancing hippocampal neurogenesis through aerobic exercise.
Vision loss is a highly significant problem for veterans. The goal of this project is to examine the utility of telerehabilitative training on spatial skills to enhance current methods of rehabilitation for veterans with vision loss. The project also investigates the associated brain changes in order to allow future development of additional interventions that could be used in parallel with training.