Eye Health

30 November 2012

Why ageing eyes struggle to read

The way people read changes as they age and helps explain why seniors have trouble reading fine print, a new study says.

The way people read changes as they age and helps explain why seniors have trouble reading fine print, a new study says.

Researchers at the University of Leicester in England measured eye movements in young adults (ages 18 to 30) and seniors (65 and older) as they read lines of text that were digitally manipulated in different ways. For example, sometimes the text was blurred and sometimes the features of individual letters were sharply defined.

Young adults found it easier to read the lines of text when fine visual detail was present, but seniors found it easier to read more blurred text, according to the study, recently published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

What the results mean

These results support the theory that older adults use a different reading strategy than younger adults and that they rely more on general cues, such as word shape, to discern the identities of words, the researchers said.

They added that their findings could lead to new ways to combat reading problems in seniors.

"The findings showed that the difficulty older readers often experience is likely to be related to a progressive decline in visual sensitivity, particularly for visual detail, due to optical changes and changes in neural transmission even in individuals with apparently normal vision," study author Kevin Paterson said in a university news release.

"However, the findings also showed that older readers comprehended text just as accurately as younger readers," he added. "Consequently, although normal aging clearly leads to important changes in reading behavior, it seems that adaptive responses to the changing nature of the visual input may help older adults to read and understand text efficiently well into later life."

Read more:
When you grow older

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about aging and your eyes.

(Copyright © 2012 HealthDay. All rights reserved.)


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Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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