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Simulated cataract and low contrast stimuli impair cognitive performance in older adults: implications for neuropsychological assessment and everyday function

Simulated cataract and low contrast stimuli impair cognitive performance in older adults: implications for neuropsychological assessment and everyday function

Neuropsychology, Development, and Cognition. Section B, Aging, Neuropsychology and Cognition 18(1): 1-21

To investigate how age-related declines in vision (particularly contrast sensitivity), simulated using cataract-goggles and low-contrast stimuli, influence the accuracy and speed of cognitive test performance in older adults. An additional aim was to investigate whether declines in vision differentially affect secondary more than primary memory. Using a fully within-subjects design, 50 older drivers aged 66-87 years completed two tests of cognitive performance--letter matching (perceptual speed) and symbol recall (short-term memory)--under different viewing conditions that degraded visual input (low-contrast stimuli, cataract-goggles, and low-contrast stimuli combined with cataract-goggles, compared with normal viewing). However, presentation time was also manipulated for letter matching. Visual function, as measured using standard charts, was taken into account in statistical analyses. Accuracy and speed for cognitive tasks were significantly impaired when visual input was degraded. Furthermore, cognitive performance was positively associated with contrast sensitivity. Presentation time did not influence cognitive performance, and visual gradation did not differentially influence primary and secondary memory. Age-related declines in visual function can impact on the accuracy and speed of cognitive performance, and therefore the cognitive abilities of older adults may be underestimated in neuropsychological testing. It is thus critical that visual function be assessed prior to testing, and that stimuli be adapted to older adults' sensory capabilities (e.g., by maximising stimuli contrast).

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Accession: 055783116

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PMID: 20799104

DOI: 10.1080/13825585.2010.501404

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