Blind World Magazine

Do other senses compensate?

February 12, 2006.
Louisville Courier-Journal - Louisville,KY,USA.

When a human loses one of the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste), do the others become more acute to help compensate?

"I've heard scientists say that they actually don't," said John Pollpeter, who has been losing his vision to retinitis pigmentosa since he was a teenager. "In my case I feel like I'm on the same level as a bear or opossum. They have poor vision. I use my other senses to reinforce my eyesight."

Pollpeter works as a naturalist and interacts almost daily with both people and wildlife.

"If I have, say, an animal skull in my hand, I can see the skull," he said, "but I can understand it better if I can reinforce what I'm seeing with my sense of touch.

"Another thing is that I know that my memory has increased. I have to have a very good memory. If you give me a phone number, it's so inconvenient for me to look it up and read it again that I need to memorize it in one shot."

Retinitis pigmentosa

John Pollpeter suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, which is slowly robbing him of his vision. He hears the question nearly everywhere he goes: "Why can't you just get glasses?"

"Eyeglasses correct for the front of the eye," he said. "My problem is the back of the eye."

Retinitis pigmentosa is part of a group of eye diseases that affect the retina and cause the degeneration of photoreceptor cells commonly referred to as rods and cones. As these cells die, patients progressively lose their vision.

It is a complicated disease, and much remains unknown about it. Accurate diagnosis is difficult, and there is no known cure.

An estimated 400,000 Americans suffer from retinitis pigmentosa or a related retinal degeneration. The disease may, but doesn't necessarily, end in total blindness.


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