Reading without central vision:effects of text spacing on reading in patients with macular disease
mesheuropmc: eye diseases | genetic structures
Abstract: Loss of central vision caused by age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a problem affecting increasingly large numbers of people within the ageing population. AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the developed world, with estimates of over 600,000 people affected in the UK . Central vision loss can be devastating for the sufferer, with vision loss impacting on the ability to carry out daily activities. In particular, inability to read is linked to higher rates of depression in AMD sufferers compared to age-matched controls. Methods to improve reading ability in the presence of central vision loss will help maintain independence and quality of life for those affected. Various attempts to improve reading with central vision loss have been made. Most textual manipulations, including font size, have led to only modest gains in reading speed. Previous experimental work and theoretical arguments on spatial integrative properties of the peripheral retina suggest that ‘visual crowding’ may be a major factor contributing to inefficient reading. Crowding refers to the phenomena in which juxtaposed targets viewed eccentrically may be difficult to identify. Manipulating text spacing of reading material may be a simple method that reduces crowding and benefits reading ability in macular disease patients. In this thesis the effect of textual manipulation on reading speed was investigated, firstly for normally sighted observers using eccentric viewing, and secondly for observers with central vision loss. Test stimuli mimicked normal reading conditions by using whole sentences that required normal saccadic eye movements and observer comprehension. Preliminary measures on normally-sighted observers (n = 2) used forced-choice procedures in conjunction with the method of constant stimuli. Psychometric functions relating the proportion of correct responses to exposure time were determined for text size, font type (Lucida Sans and Times New Roman) and text spacing, with threshold exposure time (75% correct responses) used as a measure of reading performance. The results of these initial measures were used to derive an appropriate search space, in terms of text spacing, for assessing reading performance in AMD patients. The main clinical measures were completed on a group of macular disease sufferers (n=24). Firstly, high and low contrast reading acuity and critical print size were measured using modified MNREAD test charts, and secondly, the effect of word and line spacing was investigated using a new test, designed specifically for this study, called the Equal Readability Passages (ERP) test. The results from normally-sighted observers were in close agreement with those from the group of macular disease sufferers. Results show that: (i) optimum reading performance was achieved when using both double line and double word spacing; (ii) the effect of line spacing was greater than the effect of word spacing (iii) a text size of approximately 0.85o is sufficiently large for reading at 5o eccentricity. In conclusion, the results suggest that crowding is detrimental to reading with peripheral vision, and its effects can be minimized with a modest increase in text spacing.