HANCOCK — An app developed as a portable way to test vision could be doing the same for Copper Country seniors.
At Saturday’s Health and Safety Fair at the UP Health Systems — Portage hospital, Michigan Technological University researchers were introducing people to the idea of vision testing via smartphone.
Kelly Kamm, a professor of kinesiology and integrative physiology at Michigan Technological University, conducted testing Saturday alongside Alexa Destrampe and Bella Nutini. Both are second-year exercise science majors and Portage Health Foundation scholarship recipients.
“We are testing and giving people their information, but we’re not taking any of the actual eyesight statistics. We’re just keeping how they felt about it. … We are underserved in optometry and health care in general, so this is really made for communities like ours, to make screening systems available,” Destrampe said.
It’s not a diagnostic tool but works as a basic screening test, akin to a blood-pressure machine at a pharmacy, Kamm said. It could be done in health care settings, schools or at home, she said.
In place of a physical eye chart, someone holds up a smartphone from several feet away. The app, developed by a Kenyan company named Peak Vision, was developed for a population that might not be able to read or speak English.
Only one letter is used — a capital E. The person being tested points to indicate which one of four directions the letter is facing, which the researcher then records in the app.
The letter gradually grows smaller until the points where the person begins to answer incorrectly or say they don’t know.
“Then the E actually gets a bit bigger, so it can make sure it’s coming out with what your acuity actually is,” Kamm said.
For the research team, the important data wasn’t the tests, but the questionnaires people filled out afterward. Those answers — whether they felt comfortable, whether they would let a researcher visit them for a home test — will go into their application for a National Institute of Health grant for a larger study.
If the funding is approved, the study will look at use in populations over 65. Other community sites could follow if that goes well, Kamm said.
“It really impacts the whole rest of your life if you can’t see well,” said Kamm, who has worn glasses since kindergarten. “The idea of making sure that people can have good vision to affect the rest of their health and their quality of life is something that’s really important.”
Kamm was still collecting data Saturday. Early returns — both on people’s willingness to participate and the skills of the student workers — were highly positive.
David Aro of South Range was one of Saturday’s test subjects. He thought the app would be useful for a quick check.
“If I got the app, I can have someone do it, and just measure out the distance,” he said.