Object search in neovascular age-related macular degeneration: the crowding effect

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BackgroundVisual search, an activity that relies on central vision, is frequent in daily life. This study investigates the effect of spacing between items in an object search task in participants with central vision loss.MethodsPatients with neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD), age-matched controls, and young controls were included. The stimuli were displays of four, six and nine objects randomly presented in a ‘crowded’ (spacing 1.5°) or ‘uncrowded’ (spacing 6°) condition. For each of 96 trials, participants were asked to search for a predefined target that remained on the screen until the response was recorded. Accuracy, search time, and eye movements (number of fixations and scan path ratio) were recorded.ResultsCompared to older controls, accuracy decreased by 31 per cent and search time increased by 61 per cent in AMD participants. Ageing also affected performance with a lower accuracy by 13.5 per cent and longer search times by 46 per cent in older compared to younger controls. Increasing the spacing between elements increased accuracy by 21 per cent in AMD participants but it had no effect in older and younger controls. Performance was not related to visual acuity or to duration of neovascular AMD, but search time was correlated to the lesion size in the ‘crowded’ condition.ConclusionsObject search is ubiquitous in daily life activities. When visual acuity is irrevocably reduced, increasing the spacing between elements can reliably improve object search performance in patients.

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