The purpose of this study was to assess face recognition ability in a large sample of elders (n = 572, mean age = 78.1 years) and to identify factors that affect performance.
Face recognition was measured by presenting standardized faces of varying sizes to simulate normal-sized faces at different viewing distances. Subjects were asked to identify the name of the person and their facial expression. Threshold equivalent viewing distance (EVD) was calculated. High- and low-contrast acuity, contrast sensitivity, low-contrast/low-luminance acuity, disability glare, stereoacuity, and visual field measures (with and without an attentional task) were also measured. These vision measures, along with demographic information (age, sex, education) and cognitive status, were included in a multiple regression analysis to determine which factors predicted task performance.
This cross-sectional sample of elders showed significant declines in face recognition with age. Mean threshold EVD ranged from 8.0 m for participants ≤70 years of age to 2.2 meters for those over 85 years. Multiple regression analysis revealed that age, sex, years of education, spatial vision, and cognitive status were all significant predictors of face recognition, accounting for approximately 46% of the variability. Spatial vision (high-contrast acuity) and age were the best predictors. Although each spatial vision measure was significantly correlated with face recognition, adding low-contrast or contrast sensitivity measures to the regression analysis explained no more variance than age and high-contrast acuity alone.
The marked decline in face recognition ability in elders is related to declines in spatial vision and cognitive status. All spatial vision measures have similar predictive ability for face recognition.