Because patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have difficulty recognizing faces, a team of Australian researchers tested whether this task could be improved using caricatures, which exaggerate the distinctive ways in which an individual face differs from the average.

The team found that caricaturing does indeed have the potential to help AMD patients recognize faces.

A small study evaluated 19 eyes of 12 patients with AMD ranging in age from 66 to 93. Researchers asked patients to rate how different people’s faces appeared when compared in pairs at four caricature strengths (0%, 20%, 40% and 60% exaggerations).

The team found that the nine eyes with mild vision loss (acuity ≥6/18) showed a significant improvement in identity discrimination due to higher dissimilarity ratings with caricaturing. They add that the extent of improvement matched that in young adults with normal vision. The researchers note that while caricaturing became less beneficial as visual acuity decreased, it was still effective in half the eyes with moderate to severe vision loss (acuity ≤6/24).

Lane J, Rohan EMF, Sabeti F, et al. Improving face identity perception in age-related macular degeneration via caricaturing. Scientific Reports. October 12, 2018. [Epub ahead of print].