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Open Access Research article

Eye movements during visual search in patients with glaucoma

Nicholas D Smith, Fiona C Glen and David P Crabb*

Author Affiliations

Department of Optometry and Visual Science, City University London, London, UK

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BMC Ophthalmology 2012, 12:45  doi:10.1186/1471-2415-12-45

Published: 31 August 2012

Abstract

Background

Glaucoma has been shown to lead to disability in many daily tasks including visual search. This study aims to determine whether the saccadic eye movements of people with glaucoma differ from those of people with normal vision, and to investigate the association between eye movements and impaired visual search.

Methods

Forty patients (mean age: 67 [SD: 9] years) with a range of glaucomatous visual field (VF) defects in both eyes (mean best eye mean deviation [MD]: –5.9 (SD: 5.4) dB) and 40 age-related people with normal vision (mean age: 66 [SD: 10] years) were timed as they searched for a series of target objects in computer displayed photographs of real world scenes. Eye movements were simultaneously recorded using an eye tracker. Average number of saccades per second, average saccade amplitude and average search duration across trials were recorded. These response variables were compared with measurements of VF and contrast sensitivity.

Results

The average rate of saccades made by the patient group was significantly smaller than the number made by controls during the visual search task (P = 0.02; mean reduction of 5.6% (95% CI: 0.1 to 10.4%). There was no difference in average saccade amplitude between the patients and the controls (P = 0.09). Average number of saccades was weakly correlated with aspects of visual function, with patients with worse contrast sensitivity (PR logCS; Spearman’s rho: 0.42; P = 0.006) and more severe VF defects (best eye MD; Spearman’s rho: 0.34; P = 0.037) tending to make less eye movements during the task. Average detection time in the search task was associated with the average rate of saccades in the patient group (Spearman’s rho = −0.65; P < 0.001) but this was not apparent in the controls.

Conclusions

The average rate of saccades made during visual search by this group of patients was fewer than those made by people with normal vision of a similar average age. There was wide variability in saccade rate in the patients but there was an association between an increase in this measure and better performance in the search task. Assessment of eye movements in individuals with glaucoma might provide insight into the functional deficits of the disease.

Keywords:
Glaucoma; Eye movements; Visual search; Visual disability