'E-Bifocals' a Vision to Behold
Aug. 8, 2001 -- If the print in the newspaper is starting to blur and you can no longer see the menu at your favorite restaurant, you may be about to join one of the largest clubs in the world -- one where the only dress requirement is a pair of bifocals.
More than 90% of people over the age of 40 have "presbyopia," the gradual loss of ability to focus on nearby objects, sometimes called "old eyes." Maybe you're already in the club, craning your neck at that weird angle to see through your bifocals or donning one pair of glasses for driving and another for reading.
But if one enterprising optometrist has his way, the bifocal may someday go the way of the monocle, those one-eyed glasses so popular in the past.
Ronald Blum, OD, says efforts are underway to develop "electro-active" glasses that would refocus automatically -- much like a camera -- according to whatever you were looking at.
Unlike a camera, the electroactive glasses would not have moving parts, but would refocus using chemistry and an electrical current. "Wherever you look, the glasses will be in focus in milliseconds," he tells WebMD.
Blum is president and chief executive officer of The Egg Factory, of Roanoke, Va., a company that creates, develops, and markets "transformational technologies."
As Blum explains, traditional bifocals employ a lens with two and sometimes three different "refractory indexes" -- the ability of the lens to focus light by curving it -- for near and far vision. The different curves in bifocals for near and far vision are what cause the wearer to adjust his head according to whatever he needs to look at.
But the electroactive glasses would change the refractory index automatically using software, a microchip, and an electrical current that bounces off the field of vision and back to the lens instantly. "The new glasses will know where you are looking, will be able to determine the distance, and will convert that into a new refractory index," he says.
Blum says a crude prototype has been developed, but that much more work needs to be done before the electroactive glasses are commercially available. "I believe it's probably going to be three to four years before a commercial product is available," he tells WebMD.
Is the promise of electroactive glasses real, or a marketing gimmick?
It's real and the technology is there to make it happen, but the question is whether the glasses can be made cosmetically acceptable, says ophthalmologist Dean Brick, MD, a clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of Arizona School of Medicine in Tucson.
"The idea of not having bifocals and having lenses that automatically focus is appealing," he tells WebMD. "They could be potentially very useful because most people have an aversion to bifocals. ... The question is, can you make a frame and lenses that are cosmetically acceptable. I'm sure that's going to be a technological challenge."