Attempts have been made in various studies to identify and trace changes in function in the aging visual system. Some results are conflicting and we report here a unique approach in an attempt to resolve selected issues. We have estimated neurometabolic coupling in the central visual pathway in young and old cats. Our technique provides high resolution simultaneous measurements of neuronal activity and changes in concentration of tissue oxygen in the thalamus of young and old cats. Following visual stimulation, we find shorter latency and time to peak in tissue oxygen responses in old compared with young animals. Estimates of local activity induced initial negative oxygen response show substantial reductions in older animals. Measurements of neural activity in the form of multiple unit activity are similar in the two age groups. To investigate the mechanisms underlying the changes in tissue oxygen response in older animals, we measured vascular capillary density and found it to be substantially lower in old than that in young animals. Together, these findings suggest that the changes in metabolic responses with age may be largely accounted for by alterations in the cerebral microvasculature rather than by changes in neural activity.