Aging and dark adaptation

Vision Res. 1999 Nov;39(23):3975-82. doi: 10.1016/s0042-6989(99)00092-9.


Older adults have serious difficulty seeing under low illumination and at night, even in the absence of ocular disease. Optical changes in the aged eye, such as pupillary miosis and increased lens density, cannot account for the severity of this problem, and little is known about its neural basis. Dark adaptation functions were measured on 94 adults ranging in age from the 20s to the 80s to assess the rate of rod-mediated sensitivity recovery after exposure to a 98% bleach. Fundus photography and a grading scale were used to characterize macular health in subjects over age 49 in order to control for macular disease. Thresholds for each subject were corrected for lens density based on individual estimates, and pupil diameter was controlled. Results indicated that during human aging there is a dramatic slowing in rod-mediated dark adaptation that can be attributed to delayed rhodopsin regeneration. During the second component of the rod-mediated phase of dark adaptation, the rate of sensitivity recovery decreased 0.02 log unit/min per decade, and the time constant of rhodopsin regeneration increased 8.4 s/decade. The amount of time to reach within 0.3 log units of baseline scotopic sensitivity increased 2.76 min/decade. These aging-related changes in rod-mediated dark adaptation may contribute to night vision problems commonly experienced by the elderly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Dark Adaptation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Retinal Rod Photoreceptor Cells / physiology