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Age and Vision: Contrast Sensitivity

April 29, 2015

Another year, another eye prescription? Aging eyes are something that we can all relate to as one of the issues encountered with aging. Unless you’ve discovered the fountain of youth (and have been too selfish to tell the rest of us), then it’s likely you’ve experienced some sort of age-related eye issue.

What kind of changes are we talking about?

When you’re younger, you’re more likely to see things clearly at both near and far away distances. When you get older however, say, above age 40, your vision starts to suffer a bit. Have you ever seen a friend, parent, or relative reading something? Sometimes you’ll see them moving it closer and farther away from their eyes, like they’re measuring to find a comfortable distance. This makes sense. You see, as we age, the lens in our eyes becomes less flexible, and it makes reading more closely necessary as we have a difficult time with distances.

Another common issue is that we tend to need more light. Gone at the days when a flashlight held under the blankets at night was enough to read a book. Bring on the overhead light!

In most people and women who are post-menopausal in particular, dry eyes can be an issue. As we age, tear production isn’t as lucrative as a business in our body as it used to be. Luckily for us, there are ways for us to avoid dry eyes.

There are more worrisome issues to worry about, like Macular Degeneration, which is when the tissue on the central back part of our eye, the retina, becomes damaged. This can lead to blindness, however, early detection through testing can make a huge difference in the future of your eyesight. Glaucoma is another disease that can cause blindness that you should get tested for and learn more about. Cataracts may cause treatable blindness. This is when the clear lens of your eye becomes cloudy. And the human body doesn’t come with a built-in defroster like your car, but luckily corrective surgery is accessible and very safe.

What else should I prepare for?

While it’s not as serious as issue as Macular Degeneration or Glaucoma, you should brush up your knowledge of contrast sensitivity. It’s basically how your eye differentiates light from dark. You may notice when you’re descending a flight of stairs, that it’s harder to determine where the edge is. This is due to contrast sensitivity, which also can affect things like your depth perception.

How does the testing work?

 Simply. Very simply. The tests to measure contrast sensitivity are painless and unobtrusive. It’s a chart-based testing system and guess what? You can practice.

How can I improve my Contrast Sensitivity?

New research from the University of California at Riverside is showing that behavioral practices can help improve your contrast sensitivity. For seven days, groups of older and younger adults were tested to perform discrimination orientation tasks. These tasks consisted of determining whether or not images were moving clockwise or counterclockwise. How many images? 750. (Makes your eyes tired just thinking about it, doesn’t it?) Both groups improved on their contrast sensitivity by the end of the study, with the older aged group showing a large improvement. By the end of the study, adults could make out edges more easily, as well as identify letters on eye charts better. And what’s really surprising is that some adults tested as well as people 40 years their junior—before they had taken the test.

If you’re interested in learning more about contrast sensitivity and getting tested, please feel free to get in touch with Dr. Silverman to set up an appointment.

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