05 February 2005

Older But With Better Vision

A new Canadian study has surprised even its researchers when they found out that older people might have better vision than most young people.

Motion Perception Improves With Age
By Roxanne Khamsi
Published online: 4 February 2005

As people grow older, their vision can actually get better in some ways, according to a Canadian study. The findings suggest that neurological changes could help the elderly to spot small motions in otherwise uniform scenes.

Previous studies have shown that, as the number of stripes in view increases, young people become much worse at identifying their movement. Scientists think that the stripes' large, stark borders activate the brains inhibitory mechanisms. The mind starts disregarding these monotonous forms.

Vision expert Patrick Bennett of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and his colleagues wanted to know if older people showed the same drop in performance. To the researchers' surprise, they did not.

With a large part of the screen filled with the high-contrast stripes, younger people required 100 milliseconds to work out the direction of movement, and took twice as long for a small patch. But the performance of older people stayed constant at around 70 milliseconds.


Read the study's abstract here.

Finally, something nice about growing old. You tend to have better vision, this time not only figuratively, but a study saying it can also be taken literally.

When the lead researcher was asked what good can this do to older people, he answered:
"If you're watching a football match, you look at the flow of the players up and down the field. That part might be easier for older people."
But most of our old people here do not watch football games. And so, I see this may not be the right application here.

The visual advantage of older people, according to the study, is related to their ability to discern differences in sweeping visual stimuli. I'm thinking of practical applications like hailing the right jeepney or bus or a speeding taxi in a fast throng of moving vehicles, being able to spot a malicious vendor not giving the right change in the market, and for those elders who love to spend their Sunday afternoons playing a cool game of bingo or mahjong, it might just mean cool winnings for them.

With all the diseases and degenerations that come with aging, it is good that there are studies like this one which tells us that growing old might have some advantages in store for us, after all.

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