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Which color perception declines with age?

As we get older, our color perception changes. Certain colors become more difficult to distinguish between, especially shades of blue, green and purple. This decline in color perception is a normal part of the aging process.

Causes of Declining Color Perception

There are a few reasons why our color perception changes as we age:

  • The lens of the eye yellows over time, filtering out some blue light.
  • The pupils get smaller, allowing less light to enter the eye.
  • The retinal cells responsible for color vision decline in sensitivity.
  • Damage can accumulate in the retinal cells from UV light exposure.

All of these age-related changes reduce the amount of light that reaches the retina, especially short wavelength blue and purple light. This affects our ability to distinguish between colors in the blue-violet end of the spectrum.

Blue and Purple Colors Are Most Impacted

Studies have shown that our ability to see blues, purples and violets declines more rapidly with age compared to perception of other colors like reds, oranges and greens. This is why blue colors often appear faded or grayish to older adults.

One study tested people’s ability to recognize different shades of blue, purple and red. They found that older adults (over age 65) had significantly more difficulty distinguishing between shades of blue than younger adults. However, their perception of subtle red shades was similar to younger people.

As we age, the eye’s lens and macula (central retinal area) filter out more and more short wavelength blue light. This makes it harder for older adults to detect differences between similar bluish colors.

Green Perception Also Declines

Green color perception also deteriorates somewhat with age, but not to the same degree as blue and purple. Green has wavelengths right in the middle of the visible color spectrum. As our eyes filter out more blue light, it starts to affect the green part of the spectrum as well.

Research has shown that older adults have more difficulty distinguishing between shades of green compared to young adults. However, the decline in green perception is smaller than what is seen for blue-violet colors.

Red-Yellow Perception Remains Stable

Interestingly, our ability to perceive colors at the red-yellow end of the spectrum remains relatively unchanged with age. Older and younger adults are equally able to distinguish subtle shade differences for reds, oranges and yellows.

These longer wavelength colors are not significantly affected by the age-related changes in the eye that filter out short wavelength blue light. The retinal cells that detect red and yellow light remain functional well into old age.

Gradual Process That Varies By Individual

The decline in color perception is a gradual process that happens over many years. There is some variability among individuals due to differences in genetics, health, and lifestyle factors like diet, smoking and sun exposure.

In one study, they found that the ability to detect differences between blue shades declined steadily from age 50 onwards at a rate of about 1% per year. The degree of color perception loss can also be influenced by presence of eye diseases like cataracts or macular degeneration.

Impacts on Everyday Life

The diminishing ability to perceive blues, greens and purples can impact many daily activities for older adults. Some examples include:

  • Difficulty reading colored text, especially if blue, green or purple
  • Problems distinguishing between ripe and unripe fruits/vegetables
  • Less appreciation for blue skies, green trees and colorful flowers
  • Washed-out or faded appearance of purple clothing and fabrics
  • Difficulty interpreting colored signals, lights and displays

Fortunately, declining color perception does not affect all aspects of life. Red and yellow colors remain vibrant, and contrast can compensate for faded hues. Prior color knowledge also helps with interpretation. But extra care should be taken with tasks requiring discrimination of blues, greens and purples.

Tips to Help Older Adults With Color Vision Loss

Here are some tips that can help older adults cope with age-related color vision deficiencies:

  • Use contrasting colors that are easier to distinguish like reds, oranges and yellows.
  • Avoid soft pastel shades and opt for richer, deeper hues.
  • Pay attention to brightness, contrast, and color ordering instead of hue.
  • Label colored texts, objects and wires using words or patterns.
  • Get regular eye checkups to identify any ocular diseases exacerbating the problem.
  • Improve lighting and glare control to reduce light filtering by the eye.
  • Use magnification when detailed color discrimination is needed.

Testing Color Vision

Color vision can be tested using various methods to identify any abnormalities or changes over time:

Pseudoisochromatic Plates

This test uses colored dot patterns that form numbers or symbols visible only to those with normal color vision. It screens for inherited color deficiencies affecting red-green perception.

Farnsworth-Munsell 100 Hue Test

The person has to arrange color caps in order of hue/shade. It assesses subtle color discrimination ability across the spectrum.

Lanthony’s Desaturated 15 Hue Test

This test involves arranging diluted, low-saturation color caps in order. It is sensitive to acquired color vision deficits common with aging.

Contrast Sensitivity Testing

These tests measure ability to distinguish patterns or letters of decreasing contrast. Age-related declines in contrast sensitivity influence color perception.

Tracking changes over time with repeated testing can confirm age-related color vision loss separate from congenital color blindness. Early awareness of the problem allows adaptation through appropriate lighting, magnification and color compensation techniques.


Here is a summary of the key points regarding age-related color vision changes:

  • Blue and purple color perception declines most with age due to the eye’s lens and macula filtering out more short wavelength light.
  • Green color discrimination also decreases somewhat in many older adults.
  • Red and yellow color perception remains largely unchanged throughout life.
  • The loss is gradual over many years and varies among individuals.
  • It can impact many daily activities like reading, driving and hobbies.
  • Testing can confirm the presence and extent of acquired color vision deficiencies.
  • Adaptations like increased contrast and brightness can help compensate.

Understanding how color perception shifts with age allows older adults and their caregivers to make adjustments to accommodate the changes. Small modifications can help ensure a continued appreciation of the colorful world around us throughout life.