The brain as a flexible task machine: implications for visual rehabilitation using noninvasive vs. invasive approaches.
ABSTRACT The exciting view of our brain as highly flexible task-based and not sensory-based raises the chances for visual rehabilitation, long considered unachievable, given adequate training in teaching the brain how to see. Recent advances in rehabilitation approaches, both noninvasive, like sensory substitution devices (SSDs) which present visual information using sound or touch, and invasive, like visual prosthesis, may potentially be used to achieve this goal, each alone, and most preferably together.
Visual impairments and said solutions are being used as a model for answering fundamental questions ranging from basic cognitive neuroscience, showing that several key visual brain areas are actually highly flexible, modality-independent and, as was recently shown, even visual experience-independent task machines, to technological and behavioral developments, allowing blind persons to 'see' using SSDs and other approaches.
SSDs can be potentially used as a research tool for assessing the brain's functional organization; as an aid for the blind in daily visual tasks; to visually train the brain prior to invasive procedures, by taking advantage of the 'visual' cortex's flexibility and task specialization even in the absence of vision; and to augment postsurgery functional vision using a unique SSD-prostheses hybrid. Taken together the reviewed results suggest a brighter future for visual neuro-rehabilitation.