As we age, our visual system undergoes various changes that can impact eye tracking abilities. Additionally, degenerative diseases can also affect eye tracking, leading to a decline in visual function and quality of life.
Aging and Eye Tracking
The aging process can impact eye tracking in several ways. One of the most common changes that occur as we age is a decline in the visual processing speed. This means that it takes longer for the brain to process visual information, leading to slower eye movements and decreased eye tracking abilities. Older adults may also experience a decline in attentional control, which can impact their ability to maintain fixation on a target, leading to difficulty tracking moving objects.
Another factor that can impact eye tracking in aging is the development of ocular motor disorders, such as saccadic intrusions and nystagmus. These conditions can lead to involuntary eye movements, leading to difficulty maintaining fixation on a target and tracking moving objects.
Additionally, as we age, the muscles responsible for eye movements may weaken, leading to reduced range of motion and decreased accuracy in eye tracking. The lens of the eye may also become less flexible, leading to difficulty focusing on near objects, which can impact eye tracking abilities during close-up tasks such as reading.
Degenerative Diseases and Eye Tracking
Degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis, can also impact eye tracking abilities. These diseases can affect various aspects of the visual system, including the brain regions responsible for eye movement control, the muscles that move the eyes, and the visual processing pathways.
- Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. It can also impact the visual system, leading to changes in eye tracking abilities. Studies have shown that individuals with Alzheimer’s disease may have difficulty with smooth pursuit eye movements, which are responsible for tracking moving objects smoothly. They may also experience difficulty maintaining fixation on a target, leading to decreased attention and reduced visual processing speed.
- Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder that affects the nervous system, leading to a decline in motor function. It can also impact eye tracking abilities, leading to difficulty with smooth pursuit eye movements and decreased range of motion in eye movements. Individuals with Parkinson’s disease may also experience difficulty with saccadic eye movements, leading to difficulty shifting their gaze between objects.
- Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects the nervous system, leading to a decline in motor function and coordination. It can also impact eye tracking abilities, leading to difficulty with smooth pursuit eye movements, saccadic eye movements, and maintaining fixation on a target. Additionally, individuals with multiple sclerosis may experience nystagmus, which can impact visual function and quality of life.
Impacts on the quality of life
As vision is the dominant sense in a person’s life, impaired eye movements affect the quality of lives of many people as they age (or when degenerative diseases manifest). Often, the fatigue and lowered visual stamina force these people to stop certain hobbies that involve much fine eye movement control (e.g. reading, painting, bead work). In more severe cases, impaired eye movement control increases the risk of injuries and falls. They tend to develop risk aversion and become homebound as they are unable to navigate the outside world without help. As a result, their social life takes a dramatic hit. They are likely to feel increasingly isolated, leading to subsequent issues like loneliness and depression.
It is important to identify these changes early and provide the necessary interventions, such as vision therapy and medication, to improve visual function and quality of life. By understanding the impact of aging and degenerative diseases on eye tracking, we can provide better care and support for these people and improve their quality of life.