The impact of age on vision

Our eyes are crucial to help us make sense of the world around us. We use them to visualise our surroundings, to guide our movements, and in our social interactions with other people.

A schematic diagram of the eye showing the retina and macula. (Source:

As we get older, there are natural changes that occur within our eyes which can have drastic effects on the quality of our vision and therefore our ability to perform everyday tasks. Most of these changes do not occur suddenly; they progress very gradually so may not be noticeable for many years.

Here are some examples of common changes that cause visual deficits in older people:

People >40 years old

Have you ever wondered why many adults require varifocal glasses as they get older?

The reason is scientifically defined as Presbyopia. This isn’t technically a disease but it is by far the most common effect of age on vision.

Sufferers have difficulty focussing on nearby objects. It happens because the lens of the eye becomes inflexible with age and loses the ability to focus light onto the retina is reduced. To correct this, many older people use special reading glasses or varifocals when they need to look at things close to them. A recent study suggested that more than 1 billion people across the world are currently affected by presbyopia.

People >50 years old

Loss of vision sometimes can not be rectified by wearing glasses!

An example is Macular degeneration that causes loss of ‘central vision.’ This is when things that are directly in front of the eyes look very blurred. This is because the centre of the retina (the macula), deteriorates gradually over time. Patients with macular degeneration have normal peripheral vision and have to learn to use this remaining sight to manage their everyday tasks.

People >60 years old

As we get older we can potentially encounter other visual deficits. Two examples are:

1) Cataracts – this is a progressive clouding of the lens in the eye which stops light getting through. Treatment in developed countries like the UK involves surgical removal of the damaged lens and replacement with a plastic one. Whilst this is very successful, in the developing world for many people cataracts will lead to blindness. Age-related cataracts cause 51% of world blindness amounting to an estimated 20 million people.

2) Glaucoma – This is a general term relating to a group of eye diseases that affect the pressure inside the eye. Increasing pressure leads to damage of the nerve which transmits information about what you see from the eye to the brain.  Patients experience ‘tunnel vision’ initially as their peripheral vision is lost first, but glaucoma can eventually lead to blindness.

There are very few cures for any of these diseases and symptoms gradually get worse with age. Early detection and treatment is important to preserve as much vision as possible.

Discussion Points: How much consideration do we place on the health of our eyes? What do you think it was like 100 years ago? Do we take the technology to correct our eyesight for granted?

Its all in the name – Ageing

We are sure you will all appreciate the importance of names. Names provide you, your favourite team, favourite biscuit or favourite game with an identity. A name also leaves a legacy behind it. Get the name right and people will never forget your impact. You will be working as a teams through the experiments and lessons during Leading the Way.

Pre-event challenge: we would like you to meet your team mates and discuss your team name.

The only rule: We ask when considering your team name that you stay within the theme of human health – remember during Leading the Way we are exploring the topic of Ageing.

Your team name needs to be submitted to your Science teacher by 23trd May. The Leading the Way team will then be awarding a prize to the best name when we meet you on Monday 2nd June

Leading the Way 2014 – Ageing

Over the next two weeks leading up to Leading the Way 2014 at George Stephenson High School we will be publishing several blog posts relating to the topic of Ageing.

For now why not have a read of two recent media reports relating to Ageing that highlight the work Newcastle university do on this topic.

The Ageing Game – BBC Website 7th May 2014

Your Diet and Ageing – The Journal 13th May 2014

What Leading Edge participants have to say

For our British Science Festival exhibit we decided to create a short documentary about the participants of Leading Edge: Taking the Lead 2013. During our final celebration held on 3rd July 2013 each team were interviewed about their Leading Edge experience. While on campus preparing the posters for the exhibition we also took the chance to ask the Teachers from the participating schools similar questions. So sit back, click on the link above and enjoy this web friendly version of our Leading Edge video listening to what the school students and teachers had to say.



Communication Workshop

The communication workshop partners with Gibber to help improve the pupil’s communication and presentation skills. These skills are a vital part of the Leading Edge and scientific research in general, as they enable pupils to clearly and confidently put across their research findings. They can also take these new skills back into the classroom to help their development and progress within their school work.

Gibber’s focus is on development through drama, they aim to connect and inspire young people using a combination of live drama, multimedia, humour, music and popular culture. Therefore the session is very interactive. Pupils watch a short production to kick off the session. The purpose of this performance is to demonstrate to the

pupils the importance of good communication skills and what can go wrong when communication is crossed. They then split off into smaller groups and take part in activities which demonstrate techniques to help them start to feel confident and prepared to present to large groups.


The workshop pushes the pupils to the edge of their comfort zone enabling them to improve their self-assurance and to learn new skills which will help them deliver a clear, concise and confident presentation at the Finale that they will be proud of.

Practical Skills Workshop

A driving force for Leading Edge is to provide Year 8/9 participants a real hands-on experience of the science we do. Our projects aim to achieve this goal via 2-3 visits to the research laboratory of the partnered academic, spanning the school day.

We know from experience that a given amount of time during the first visit is spent training the participants how to use some of the tools we take for granted. This is not a bad thing as it provides everyone the chance to take a step back and focus on the bigger picture of the difference in what a research lab looks like compared to the science classroom.

However, not every project utilises the same tools and even the same scientific skills sets. To provide everyone with an insight into some of the skills we exploit in our labs we decided for our first 2013 workshop to focus on practical skills.

We hosted the workshop in one of the three teaching laboratories housed in the Faculty of Medical Sciences. Lab coats were provided, participants were mixed up to promote inter-school communication, and the fun began. We devised a work plan through 4 tasks plus a tour of the Bioimaging facilities housed in the Faculty of Medical Sciences.  The tasks included:

1) Health and Safety Risk Assessment

2) Know your pipette

3) Getting to know a microscope

4) Calculating the volume of “Gung”

It was a very active 2 hour session. Everyone enjoyed themselves. Mixing up the pupils worked well but also caused confusion amongst Teachers and Academics. Hiding uniforms under regimental lab coats makes it fun finding your project team to say hi and help them out.

Images by Zander Photography