Color vision tends to fade with age, study finds

March 18, 2014 by Randy Dotinga, Healthday Reporter
Color vision tends to fade with age: study
But seniors' lives aren't really affected, and certain treatments can reverse condition, experts say.

(HealthDay)—Here's one more ability that seems to decline with age: color sense. A new study finds that many people lose their ability to clearly distinguish certain colors as they age, with losses typically starting around age 70 and getting worse over time.

But there's good news too: In general, the loss of in seniors doesn't seem to affect day-to-day life.

Still, the findings raise issues about whether assumptions about the lack of problems are true. "[The decline] is probably not detrimental in their lives in any way, but that's the next question: What are the practical implications of these findings?" said study lead author Marilyn Schneck, a scientist with the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, in San Francisco. "There's another question: What in the visual system is causing these changes?"

Researchers have long known that color vision can deteriorate as people get older, Schneck said. The lenses of their eyes can become yellowish, causing them to see as if they were looking through a yellow filter, she said. This can disrupt their so-called "blue-yellow" vision, preventing them in certain situations from distinguishing blue from purple and yellow from green and yellow-green. Problems are especially apparent when colors are washed out, Schneck said.

This is different from inherited colorblindness, which is more common among men and prevents people from distinguishing red from green.

In the new study, researchers sought to understand how common the color-vision problems are among older people. They gave tests to nearly 900 people aged 58 to 102 from the Northern California enclave of Marin County, leaving out anyone who had inherited colorblindness.

Color-vision problems in the blue-yellow spectrum affected 45 percent of people in their mid-70s, and that proportion rose to two-thirds by the time people reached their mid-90s. Few people had problems with the red-green spectrum.

Can these people restore their old color vision? Cataract surgery can make major difference because it replaces lenses in the eyes, clearing away the yellowish film, Schneck said. But, she said, the problems don't appear to be fixable with glasses.

As for causes, Schneck said they appear to be cataracts, retinal disease and normal aging, although she said more research is needed to better pinpoint what's going on.

Michael Crognale, director of cognitive and brain science with the department of psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno, cautioned that changes in color vision can be a sign of significant medical problems, such as diabetes.

"If you notice changes in your color vision, and it's happening rapidly, that should be a warning flag for you to get your blood sugar tested and see an ophthalmologist about whether you've got retinal damage," Crognale said.

As for preventing loss of color vision due to aging, forget it. That's the word from Stephen Dain, who studies color vision as a professor with the School of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia. Deterioration of color vision is "as inevitable as death and taxes," he said.

The study appears in the March issue of the journal Optometry and Vision Science.

Explore further: Color vision problems become more common with age

More information: For details about eye health in people over 60, try the American Optometric Association.

Related Stories

Color vision problems become more common with age

February 20, 2014
Abnormal color vision increases significantly with aging—affecting one-half or more of people in the oldest age groups, reports a study in Optometry and Vision Science, official journal of the American Academy of Optometry.

Brain, not eye mechanisms keep color vision constant across lifespan

May 8, 2013
Cone receptors in the human eye lose their color sensitivity with age, but our subjective experience of color remains largely unchanged over the years. This ability to compensate for age-related changes in color perception ...

Study finds mantis shrimp process vision differently than other organisms (w/ video)

January 24, 2014
(Phys.org) —Researchers with the University of Queensland, Brisbane along with an associate from National Cheng Kung University, in China have found what they believe to be a reasonable explanation for mantis shrimp having ...

Recommended for you

Study advances gene therapy for glaucoma

January 16, 2018
While testing genes to treat glaucoma by reducing pressure inside the eye, University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists stumbled onto a problem: They had trouble getting efficient gene delivery to the cells that act like drains ...

New study offers added hope for patients awaiting corneal transplants

January 9, 2018
New national research led by Jonathan Lass of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine has found that corneal donor tissue can be safely stored for 11 days before transplantation surgery to correct eye problems ...

Diabetic blindness caused and reversed "trapped" immune cells in rodent retinas

January 3, 2018
Johns Hopkins researchers have discovered a cell signaling pathway in mice that triggers vision loss in patients with diabetic retinopathy and retinal vein occlusion – diseases characterized by the closure of blood vessels ...

Ophthalmologists increasingly dissatisfied with electronic health records

December 29, 2017
Ophthalmologists' use of electronic health records (EHR) systems for storing and accessing patients' medical histories more than doubled between 2006 and 2016, while their perceptions of financial and clinical productivity ...

Higher omega-3 fatty acid intake tied to lower glaucoma risk

December 26, 2017
(HealthDay)—Increased daily intake of ω-3 fatty acids is associated with lower odds of glaucoma, but higher levels of total polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) intake are associated with higher odds of developing glaucoma, ...

Protein analysis allows for treatment of eye-disease symptoms with existing drugs

December 21, 2017
Demonstrating the potential of precision health, a team led by a researcher at the Stanford University School of Medicine has matched existing drugs to errant proteins expressed by patients with a rare eye disease.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.