The control of vertical saccades in aged subjects

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Abstract

In real life we produce vertical saccades at different distances and eccentricities, and while our fixation is more or less actively engaged. The goal of this study is to examine vertical saccades in aged and young subjects, taking into consideration all these parameters. Eleven adults (20-28 years) and 11 aged subjects (63-83 years) were recruited. We used LED targets at 7.5° or 15°, up or down in four conditions: gap and overlap tasks, each done at two distances—at near (40 cm) and at far (150 cm). In the gap task fixation target extinguishes prior to target onset, while in the overlap condition it stays on after target onset; consequently, visual attention and fixation are employed differently in the two tasks. Eye movements were recorded with the Chronos video eye tracker. Results showed that vertical saccades were longer for aged subjects than for young adults under almost all conditions. For both aged and young subjects, latencies were shorter under the gap than under the overlap task. Latencies for eccentric targets at 15° were significantly longer than those at 7.5° but for aged subjects only; this effect was more pronounced for upward saccades under the overlap condition. Express type of latencies (80-120 ms) occurred frequently in the gap task and at similar rates for young adults (16%) and aged subjects (12%); in the overlap task express latencies were scarce in young adults (0.4%) and aged subjects (1.8%). Age deteriorates the ability to trigger regular volitional saccades but not the ability to produce express type of saccades. Latency increase with aging is attributed to the degeneration of central areas, e.g. oculomotor cortical areas involved in the initiation of vertical saccades.

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