Constable: 'Brain glasses' let concussion patient see path to recovery
While driving in April 2019, Clare Mantelman of Barrington Hills was rear-ended by a car that drove her vehicle into the car in front of her. "My head hit the steering, and I bounced back," she says.
"You'll be fine, you'll be fine," Mantelman says she was told by her doctor and a neurologist, who assured her time would cure any effects of a concussion. Weeks later, she still had difficulty.
"I couldn't add, subtract or divide. I was skipping words. I couldn't spell. I'd lose my balance," says Mantelman, 57, who couldn't drive, needed husband to do everything for her, and even forgot how to ride her horse, Blue. "My whole personality was gone. The surroundings were just too much for me. Nobody could tell me where to get help."
A special pair of "brain glasses" changed all that. Realizing how odd that might sound, Mantelman simply says, "It's real."
Her path to recovery began when a friend gave her the 2015 book, "The Ghost in My Brain," by Clark Elliot, an Evanston musician and associate professor of artificial intelligence at DePaul University who suffered a very similar injury and recovered, in part, by wearing brain glasses.
"I thought the book was about me," says Mantelman, showing off her dog-eared copy of the book, where she underlined passages that hit home with her. She made appointments with the same doctors Elliot saw.
Meeting with optometrist Deborah Zelinsky, founder of the Mind-Eye Institute in Northbrook and St. Charles, Mantelman took the Z-Bell test, a patented test created by Zelinsky that asks patients to close their eyes and try to touch ringing bells. Mantelman missed the bells' locations. But when Zelinsky placed a lens in front of Mantelman's closed eyes, she suddenly could touch each ringing bell.
"It's very bizarre," says Mantelman, who got her brain glasses in February of 2020. "It's absolutely fascinating."
It's the result of more than 30 years of research into the connections between the brain and the retina, says Zelinsky, who received her doctoral degree from the Illinois College of Optometry and started the Mind-Eye Institute in 1992. The retina is made from brain tissue and sends signals beyond eyesight, Zelinsky says.
"Peripheral awareness," says Zelinsky, explaining that her lenses don't correct eyesight issues but balance the processing of central and peripheral eyesight and synchronize the integration between auditory and retinal sensory systems. "It's altering the way people listen."
The basic eye chart, where people sit still and identify letters in the distance, was invented in 1862 and didn't address Mantelman's issues. "When she moves around, the periphery changes," Zelinsky says. Mantelman has problems processing movement and lighting changes, and that requires more testing by optometrists to adjust the glasses to synchronize the way she visualizes auditory and visual space.
Mantelman's husband, Jeff, took the Z-Bell test simply to see how it worked and had no problem locating ringing bells with his eyes closed. But when Zelinsky put a lens over his closed eyes, he suddenly was pointing a foot from where the sound emanated, just as a person with perfect vision would have problems wearing a stranger's prescription glasses.
"I don't know the science, but it's a very scientific new technology," says Jeff Mantelman, who read endorsements from other patients and saw the results in his wife.
The glasses, which start at about $2,000, aren't covered by insurance, and Mantelman has spent much more because she needed additional treatment and a handful of tweaks to her glasses. She's not fully recovered and still needs treatment.
The author of "The Ghost in My Brain" first saw cognitive restructuring specialist Donalee Markus, the founder of Designs for Strong Minds in Highland Park who works in neuroplasty, the ability of the brain to compensate for damage caused by injury or stroke. Mantelman says she was helped by Markus and Amy Lukos, owner of Essential Elements, with clinics in Northbrook and Glen Ellyn, who works with issues ranging from traumatic brain injury to autism.
Zelinsky's treatments are out of the mainstream, but she has delivered lectures around the world and is a board member of the Society for Brain Mapping, a community leader for the Society of Neuroscience, and a fellow in the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, and she's also in the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association. Her offices draw patients from around the world, especially Dutch people who suffered brain injuries in bicycle accidents.
"My work is based on solid discoveries in neuroscience as Mind-Eye Institute is bridging the gap between neuroscience and eye care. It takes a while for research to alter an entire field of health care science," Zelinsky says. "I've honed it over the last 30 years. A lot of patients come in and say, 'Wow. These glasses help me hear better.'"
Trademarked as Brainwear, Zelinsky's glasses don't correct eyesight and some of her patients have 20-20 eyesight. "But they are so much happier if we make them 20-25 and take away their symptoms," she says. Her clinic has worked with veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, people on the autism spectrum and children with learning difficulties. She says she'd like to eradicate dyslexia the way Jonas Salk got rid of polio.
Mantelman, who was born in Northwood, England, moved to the U.S. as a child. Her brain glasses look the same as other glasses but do so much more and might be able to help patients who can't find help, she says.
"I don't know how to explain it," Mantelman says. "All I can tell you is it's magic."