Over-50s reading difference

By Siski Green , Tuesday 27 November 2012

Trouble reading the fine print? It might not be your sight, say researchers
Reading glasses on open bookIf you are having trouble reading it may not be down to your sight

Developing a need to wear glasses as you age is common – people in their 50s may notice that they have difficulties reading a car number plate ahead in the road, for example, or reading small letters that are on a medicine label – this is usually a result of eye lens hardening.

However, new research reveals that an inability to read small print, for example, isn’t just to do with the physiology of the eye, it’s also about word recognition skills that change as you age.

Researchers from the University of Leicester prepared digitally-manipulated text so they could test study participants’ ability to recognise words. Some words in the text were blurred, for example, while others were sharpened and more defined.

The researchers then monitored the eye movements of young adults (18 to 30 years old) and older adults (over 65) to analyse how different people use visual cues when reading.

They found that young adults were more able to read the text when it included fine visual detail; whereas older adults found it easier to read blurred text.

This shows that older individuals use a different reading strategy to young adults, probably indicating that rather than focusing on individual letters and individual details, they look at the shape or length, for example, of the entire word to help them identify it.

These results were not affected by participants’ vision – even those with apparently ‘normal’ healthy vision showed the same differences.


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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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