Looking at vision across a lifetime

Why, and how, does our eyesight change throughout our lifetime?

Researchers at Waterloo are studying various aspects of questions like this one. Some are working with young children, others with people at the opposite end of the age spectrum, and still others are looking at how certain visual challenges can be managed at all ages.Susan Leat examining the eyes

Professor Susan Leat has conducted research on children with Down syndrome who have trouble focusing on work at a close range. In the study on Down syndrome children, she was able to show improvement in early literacy when the children wore bifocal reading lenses.

“These children are having the same problems as the average 45-year-old. We’ve known this for some time, but there have been few to no studies of bifocals providing a functional benefit.”

Along with a colleague at the University of Toronto, she’s developing a test to measure visual acuity in infants three months of age and older.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Leat has studied a number of older people who have binocular vision disorders (when the eyes don’t work together), and found the prevalence was 30 to 50 per cent in that group.

The next step is to determine whether there’s an association between the lack of binocular vision and falling, and fear of falling, for this group.

Professor Elizabeth Irving studies changes in visual function, in particular refractive error (i.e., when eyes need a prescription to see clearly) due to age. Irving’s research is aimed at understanding the underlying causes of refractive development, and her findings have important implications for policies and standards about who should get their eyes tested and when. There is currently very little evidence supporting policy on coverage for annual eye examinations, and her research suggests that some groups with coverage have less need than others without coverage.

(Updated May 2013)