Abnormalities of eye movement and fixation may contribute to difficulty in perceiving and recognizing faces among older adults with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), suggests a study “Abnormal Fixation in Individuals with AMD when Viewing an Image of a Face” appearing in the January issue of Optometry and Vision Science, official journal of the American Academy of Optometry. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part ofWolters Kluwer Health.
Unlike people with normal vision focus, those with AMD don’t focus on “internal features” (the eyes, nose and mouth) when looking at the image of a face, according to the study by William Seiple, PhD, and colleagues of Lighthouse International, New York. They write, “Abnormal eye movement patterns and fixations may contribute to deficits in face perception in AMD patients.”
When Viewing Famous Face, AMD Patients Focus on External Features
The researchers used a sophisticated technique called optical coherence tomography/scanning laser ophthalmoscopy (OCT-SLO) to examine the interior of the eye in nine patients with AMD. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in older adults. It causes gradual destruction of the macula, leading to blurring and loss of central vision.
Previous studies have suggested that people with AMD have difficulty perceiving faces. To evaluate the possible role of abnormal eye movements, Dr Seiple and colleagues used the OCT-SLO equipment to make microscopic movies of the interior of the eye (fundus, including the retina and macula) as the patients viewed one of the world’s most famous faces: the Mona Lisa.
This technique allowed the researchers to record eye movements and where the patients looked (fixations) while looking at the face. They compared the findings in AMD patients to a control group of subjects with normal vision.
The results showed significant differences in eye movement patterns and fixations between groups. The AMD patients had fewer fixations on the internal features of the Mona Lisa’s face - eyes, nose, and mouth. For controls, an average of 87 percent of fixations were on internal features, compared to only 13 percent on external features. In contrast, for AMD patients, 62 percent of fixations were on internal features while 38 percent were on external features.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a deterioration or breakdown of the eye’s macula. The macula is a small area in the retina - the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye. The macula is the part of the retina that is responsible for your central vision, allowing you to see fine details clearly.
The macula makes up only a small part of the retina, yet it is much more sensitive to detail than the rest of the retina (called the peripheral retina). The macula is what allows you to thread a needle, read small print, and read street signs. The peripheral retina gives you side (or peripheral) vision. If someone is standing off to one side of your vision, your peripheral retina helps you know that person is there by allowing you to see their general shape.
Many older people develop macular degeneration as part of the body’s natural aging process. There are different kinds of macular problems, but the most common is age-related macular degeneration.
The normal controls also tended to make fewer and shorter eye movements (called saccades) than AMD patients. The differences between groups did not appear to be related to the blurring of vision associated with AMD.
Some older adults with AMD report difficulties perceiving faces. While the problem in “processing faces” is certainly related to the overall sensory visual loss, the new evidence suggests that specific patterns of eye movement abnormalities may also play a role.
Dr Seiple and colleagues note that “abnormal scanning patterns when viewing faces” have also been found in other conditions associated with difficulties in face perception, including autism, social phobias, and schizophrenia. The authors discuss the possible mechanisms of the abnormal scanning patterns in AMD, involving the complex interplay between the eyes and brain in governing eye movement and interpreting visual information.
There are two main types of age-related macular degeneration:
Dry form. The “dry” form of macular degeneration is characterized by the presence of yellow deposits, called drusen, in the macula. A few small drusen may not cause changes in vision; however, as they grow in size and increase in number, they may lead to a dimming or distortion of vision that people find most noticeable when they read. In more advanced stages of dry macular degeneration, there is also a thinning of the light-sensitive layer of cells in the macula leading to atrophy, or tissue death. In the atrophic form of dry macular degeneration, patients may have blind spots in the center of their vision. In the advanced stages, patients lose central vision.
Wet form. The “wet” form of macular degeneration is characterized by the growth of abnormal blood vessels from the choroid underneath the macula. This is called choroidal neovascularization. These blood vessels leak blood and fluid into the retina, causing distortion of vision that makes straight lines look wavy, as well as blind spots and loss of central vision. These abnormal blood vessels eventually scar, leading to permanent loss of central vision.
Most patients with macular degeneration have the dry form of the disease and will not lose central vision. However, the dry form of macular degeneration can lead to the wet form. Although only about 10% of people with macular degeneration develop the wet form, they make up the majority of those who experience serious vision loss from the disease.
It is very important for people with macular degeneration to monitor their eyesight carefully and see their eye doctor on a regular basis.
A previous study suggested that drawing attention to specific characteristics - such as the internal facial features - may increase fixations on internal features and improve face perception. Dr Seiple and coauthors conclude, “That report gives hope that eye movement control training and training of allocation of attention could improve face perception and eye scanning behavior in individuals with AMD.”
To read the article “Abnormal Fixation in Individuals with AMD when Viewing an Image of a Face”, please visit http://journals.lww.com/optvissci/Fulltext/2013/01000/Abnormal_Fixation_in_Individuals_With_Age_Related.10.aspx
About Optometry and Vision Science
Optometry and Vision Science, official journal of the American Academy of Optometry, is the most authoritative source for current developments in optometry, physiological optics, and vision science. This frequently cited monthly scientific journal has served primary eye care practitioners for more than 75 years, promoting vital interdisciplinary exchange among optometrists and vision scientists worldwide.
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Founded in 1922, the American Academy of Optometry is committed to promoting the art and science of vision care through lifelong learning. All members of the Academy are dedicated to the highest standards of optometric practice through clinical care, education or research.
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