Adults with Down syndrome have significant vision deficits

By Sharon Krinsky-McHale, PhD
New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities, Staten Island, NY

People with Down syndrome oftentimes have vision and eye issues.
Fewer studies have examined the basic visual capacities of individuals with Down syndrome that may be affected by these abnormalities such as spatial and temporal vision (i.e. the visual system’s ability to perceive changes in brightness across space), depth perception, and color vision. For example, reduced spatial vision would affect the ability to read signs and watch television and to recognize objects and faces. Impairment in depth perception would affect the ability to navigate stairs and escalators as well as participating in sports or other leisure activities. Deficits in vision will also have implications for learning, cognitive functioning, and adaptive behavior.

What did you do in your research?
We examined basic vision in seven adults with Down syndrome. Participants in this study completed a battery of tests that examined various visual functions (these psychophysical tests investigated the relationship between physical stimuli in the environment and the sensations and perceptions that they affect). The performance of adults with Down syndrome was compared with that of younger and older adults without intellectual disability (ID).

What did you find out?
Adults with Down syndrome had significant vision deficits, showed reduced spatial and temporal vision, and reduced depth perception and anomalies in the ability to differentiate colors. Their vision was found to be much worse than the vision capacities of older adults without ID. The visual deficits that we found in adults with Down syndrome are similar to those found in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease without ID. Our findings suggest that a common mechanism may be responsible for the pattern of deficits observed such as the presence of Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology in the visual cortex. An important secondary finding is that individuals with mild to moderate ID are capable of participating in studies employing state-of-the art psychophysical procedures.

What are the take-home messages?
This study suggests that the prevalence and extent of visual deficits is likely to be higher than previously estimated for this population. Quality of life for individuals with Down syndrome may be enhanced, and functional capacity improved, by proper assessment of visual functioning and correction where possible or appropriately modifying the visual environment to provide more salient cues.

To learn more about these findings contact Sharon Krinsky-McHale.

Full Journal Article
Krinsky-McHale, S.J., Silverman, W., Gordon, J., Devenny, D.A., Oley, N. & Abramov, I. (2014). Vision Deficits in Adults with Down Syndrome. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 27(3), 247–263.