Adjustable glasses let you focus on the fly

May 11, 2010 5:55:14 PM PDT
It is as natural a part of aging as gray hair and wrinkles. The lens of the eye loses its ability to focus around middle age and for many folks, that means the need for an extra pair of glasses for reading, or bifocals.

A new type of adjustable glasses is promising to give patients the power to focus at almost any distance. But unlike bifocals or progressive lenses, you do not move your eyes. You adjust the lens instead.

If you wear reading glasses, you probably spend a fair amount of time taking them on and off. But what if a pair of glasses could let you literally refocus on the fly?

"These are amazing glasses," says ophthalmologist Dr. Harvey Fishman. "What they do is they actually give you an adjustable focus."

Fishman has begun fitting patients at his Palo Alto clinic with TruFocals. The glasses look like something out of inspector gadget, but they employ a new type of adjustable lens controlled by a moveable bar at the bridge.

"And the way you change the focus is you essentially take the bar and you move it from right to left," says Fishman.

That touch focus design lets patient Christian Meisling read the same page at varied distances.

"What's interesting is that things are in good focus doesn't seem to be any distortion," he says.

TruFocals consist of two lenses -- one firm, the other flexible and filled with a clear fluid. The slider changes the pressure on that second lens.

"And what it does is it actually changes the swelling of the lens," says Fishman. "So by changing the bar it essentially changes the curvature of the lens, which is how you change a focus."

TruFocals may have launched an evolution in the way patients use their eyeglass, and they will soon have competition. Another company plans to release glasses next year that adjusts focus electronically.

The prototype, from manufacturer Pixel Optics, employs a battery system that shifts the focus when the wearer looks up or down. The lenses can also be controlled manually by touching the frame.

"This is a very hot area, and a lot of different companies are very interested in doing it," says Fishman. "You will start seeing more of these high-tech glasses coming out in the near future.

Some doctors believe the improved technologies could have benefits for conditions like stigmatism and macular degeneration. For now, the main market is middle-aged patients like Meisling who suffer from presbyopia, the common loss of the eye's ability to shift focus as we age.

"Having something with an adjustable focal length, which is I think where you're kind of going with it, could be a wonderful thing to have," says Meisling.

The new technology does not come cheap. The TruFocals retail for just under $900. The electronic version due out next year is expected to cost more than $1,000 a pair.

Written and produced by Tim Didion


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