Can Colored Filter Lenses Change Your Life? with Helen Irlen

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

People who suffer from Irlen Syndrome have trouble processing certain visual stimuli, particularly words and numbers. The surprising method of treatment involves the wearing of a special pair of tinted glasses. In the third episode of a series on Irlen Syndrome with Helen Irwin, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss how these lenses can change the way your brain processes information and change your life.

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years, using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to
Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We are here with Helen Irlen talking about the Irlen Syndrome.
Tana Amen: So interesting.
Dr Daniel Amen: How colored, filtered lens can literally change your life. In this podcast, I want to talk about traumatic brain injury. Here at Amen Clinics, 40% of the patients we see have had traumatic brain injury of significance at some point in their past. It is of epidemic proportions that no one knows. It's major cause of psychiatric illness, anxiety, depression, temper problems, marital problems, domestic violence, and so on.
It was about 12 years ago I started my NFL work. We've scanned and treated about 300 NFL players. I think half of them have the Irlen Syndrome. It's amazing that if you don't inherit it that having a car accident, having played a contact sport can often trigger headaches, irritability, reading problems, depth perception issues. You can imagine if you're an NFL player and you get whacked a lot in the head. If it gives you depth perception problems, even just a smidge, it can cost you millions of dollars in contracts 'cause you're not going to be quite as good as you were.
We actually have a number of hockey players, as well, because head trauma is very common in hockey. When we figure out they have their own syndrome, we'll actually tint their masks whatever color. They become better hockey players. Talk about your experience with traumatic brain injury.
Helen Irlen: Yeah. It's an interesting concept, and I guess one that's more prevalent. What I was thinking about as you were talking is it doesn't even have to be a sport that's necessarily thought of as a contact sport. Someone told me about synchronized swimming and how they get head injuries. I went, "What?" They go, "Well, they can be out of sync."
Dr Daniel Amen: Hit heads.
Helen Irlen: They hit heads. Cheerleading is another one.
Tana Amen: Oh, yeah. That one I had. When I was a cheerleader, we saw it all the time.
Helen Irlen: I always quote your quote that the only safe sport that Daniel Amen says is ping pong.
Tana Amen: Unless you're our grandson who got hit by a ping pong paddle.
Helen Irlen: Anyway, but that again has become very prevalent. We've seen 500 military men and women. It's not identified in the military because they're not bleeding to death.
Tana Amen: I'm not sure they would want to know.
Dr Daniel Amen: Of course they would want to know because they'd be more accurate.
Tana Amen: Yeah, but then they have to actually help them.
Helen Irlen: They had such a hard time even identifying TBI and PTSD.
Tana Amen: But then they have to actually do something about it.
Helen Irlen: It's hard to separate it out. It's interesting for us because we do pre and post testing with everyone who we see who's had some type of head trauma. To look at which factors then we can eliminate, which ones are resistant and are really related to PTSD. Some brain injury that we're not touching because we're basically dealing with, as you know, the visual cortex.
Memory becomes resistant, and one of the last ones to start to get better and has nothing to do with what we do with. A lot of times the sleep issues stay a problem for them because of the anxiety and the depression. Anything that we've been typically dealing with is able to get better.
As I had mentioned before, they're able to now read. Before they could make get through a sentence to a half a page. Now they can be under fluorescent lighting without it triggering their headaches, their migraines, nauseousness, dizziness, the feelings of agitation and irritability. That feeling of I just got to get out of here, fight or flight feelings.
They can be under fluorescent lighting. They can think about going to school. They can think about going back to school, just having a career because they're going to be medically discharged. I see a lot now of car accident victims who it's again it's not recognized by most neurologists. They've gone to-
Dr Daniel Amen: They have no training so it doesn't exist.
Helen Irlen: It doesn't exist, yeah. With the ophthalmologists it's even worse. It doesn't exist. It's really ... Shouldn't. They totally destroy-
Dr Daniel Amen: There's a controversy among the ophthalmology field and the optometrists. I know they also get involved in visual training, reading. My optometrist, who I adore, she's actually my cousin, she'd never heard of it. She's open minded, so she went and learned about it.
Helen Irlen: Right.
Dr Daniel Amen: She trusts me. If I say, "Look, I have thousands of people we've diagnosed over the last 25 years. It radically changes their life." Why wouldn't you want to just pay attention to it? The treatment is so simple.
Helen Irlen: It is simple, as long as you know how to diagnose it. You can't self-diagnose because you don't know what it's supposed to look like or how it's supposed to feel. The key to this is two things. One is to have someone who's been trained. Who's an expert at asking the questions the right way to be able to pull exactly what's happening that shouldn't be happening.
Then two, the recognition that everyone's brain is uniquely different, just like we have uniquely different fingerprints. No one color works for every person. We've done runs on thousands and thousands and thousands-
Dr Daniel Amen: You actually have some of the lens here?
Helen Irlen: Yeah, I brought some of the lens along.
Dr Daniel Amen: Let me put one on and see.
Tana Amen: Yeah, this one was wild. It's sort of a pinkish lens. When I put it on, it actually made things look more blue and crisp. I thought that was pretty wild.
Dr Daniel Amen: That actually makes me worse.
Tana Amen: See that made me better.
Helen Irlen: That's a good point that it's very-
Dr Daniel Amen: We are not the same are we?
Tana Amen: We are not in so many ways.
Helen Irlen: But everyone has a different-
Dr Daniel Amen: Conservative people more conservative.
Tana Amen: Really?
Helen Irlen: No. It's getting back to what you said in terms of the brain's ability to read the wavelengths of light. That has-
Tana Amen: It's just wild. Yeah, see the ocean and the background on our screen is bluer to me.
Helen Irlen: The other thing that we do use before that is we want to make sure ... We don't put anybody in our own spectral filters unless they actually have the problem.
Tana Amen: Yeah, see and that's the thing. I'm looking at your patterns. I'm looking around, nothing else looks different to me. It just looks crisper. Does that make sense? But I don't see a change in patterns. I don't see a change in light. I don't see ...
Helen Irlen: That's why the website,, has self tests. It's very easy to self-identify yourself or somebody if you have it. Then we do a screening. Again, we're looking at setting them up to look at certain patterns. That will quickly pull that individual with the symptoms, if they have Irlen, that occur at some point when they're reading and doing visually intensive activities. They get to look at, and they have to count one of the columns. Then they have to keep looking at it. It's that sustained looking, not looking away.
Tana Amen: Oh, no. See I can't do that. I have to put my finger on it.
Helen Irlen: Right.
Tana Amen: There's no way I could sit there.
Helen Irlen: I keep telling you, you have Irlen.
Tana Amen: No. No, I can't do it. I can't do it with numbers either. If there's a whole bunch of zeros or a whole bunch of ones, I have to put my finger on it.
Helen Irlen: I know that one of the things we do after we-
Tana Amen: They start to all run together.
Helen Irlen: Yeah. Oh, here we go.
Dr Daniel Amen: We have a diagnostic ...
Helen Irlen: We can do a diagnostic right here.
Tana Amen: See and the funny thing is I actually was really good in math in school. If a whole bunch of numbers together, I just had to make sure that I wasn't mixing them up.
Helen Irlen: Think about the kids who have problems doing that. Then at this point with the screening we use different colored overlays to make sure that we can stop the problem.
Tana Amen: I just thought of something.
Helen Irlen: It's still ... We can stop. Many times it's a combination of overlays or combination of densities. It just depends on the individual's brain.
Tana Amen: I'm having all these like breakthrough moments right now. I have to ask you a question.
Helen Irlen: Go ahead.
Tana Amen: It makes sense to me all of a sudden. Is that why like maybe some people, like me and my daughter actually, better in things like ... I was better in Algebra than I was in basic math. I'd have to slow down and look at the numbers to make sure I wasn't mixing them up. My daughter's the same thing. She's not as good in basic math, as she is in geometry because the formulas are not hard. It's the numbers.
Helen Irlen: The numbers and columns.
Tana Amen: The columns, yes. Oh, no. Well, I don't have my regular glasses on.
Helen Irlen: If we come up with the right colored overlay, here the numbers, They're in columns.
Tana Amen: Yeah, there's no way.
Helen Irlen: For many people, it merges together. It doesn't stay straight.
Tana Amen: Oh, I would have never thought of myself.
Helen Irlen: Certain colors can make it better.
Tana Amen: Being an accountant would have made me crazy.
Helen Irlen: Certain colors, and what I'm doing is putting different colors down over it.
Tana Amen: I need to get my regular glasses though to see that.
Helen Irlen: That's okay. I'm just showing you. Certain colors can make it better, but certain colors can make it worse. That's what playing with colors is dangerous. You can over saturate the brain and create more symptoms without realizing it.
Tana Amen: So interesting.
Helen Irlen: We come up with the right color. We make sure they're given their overlays to go home, read with, to make sure that this is making a difference. Then they come back for their second appointment. We come up with a color that they can wear. The appointment for the screening is about an hour and a half. To come up with the right color when you're wearing it is about a two hour appointment to two-and-a-half hour appointment.
Tana Amen: That's tricky.
Dr Daniel Amen: You have centers?
Helen Irlen: I have centers all in what 46 countries now? I don't know, screeners all throughout the US. Those are listed again on People can go, and they can get online and play with it. What's fun is on the website we have colored glasses on top. You can change the page and try reading with the different colored glasses.
Tana Amen: That's another question I have because I remember even when I was in college ... I can't remember where I heard it. Someone told me they had to change the background screen on their computer. Could that have something ... Is that a similar type thing while you're typing?
Helen Irlen: But that's what they're doing. They're coming up with a concept, so they change it.
Tana Amen: Similar?
Helen Irlen: Yes. It's constant for those who have Irlen is to have it the opposite. Instead of a white background, a black background with white print. A lot of people are lowering the brightness. You actually up your brightness, again, to compensate for it. It exists all the time, and you're paying a price. Daniel, you know that they pay a price in terms of when their brain is under stress, their health and well-being, not just the performance. You should only skip-
Tana Amen: So interesting.
Dr Daniel Amen: When we come back, I have a story that's one of my favorite stories that I often tell a lot about a before and after scan. You'll want to hear this. Stay with us.
Tana Amen: If you're enjoying the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast, please don't forget to subscribe so you'll always know when there's a new episode. While you're at it, feel free to give us a review or 5-star rating as that helps others find the podcast.
Dr Daniel Amen: For more information, give us a call at 855-978-1363.