A Better Font For Vision Loss

Age related macular degeneration patients read better with Courier font

February 26, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Vision loss is a downside to getting older. Reading printed words can be a challenge. It turns out that font matters for people with vision loss. 

Age-related macular degeneration is a common eye condition among people over 50. It is the leading cause of vision loss in older adults. Losing eye sight can happen gradually or can progress very quickly. 

A recent study found that patients with age-related macular degeneration were able to read better with the Courier font. Patients had the hardest time reading Arial font, which is what agencies for the blind recommend. 

"If you have vision loss, ask for printed materials in Courier font."

Luminita Tarita-Nistor, PhD, of Vision Science Research Program, York University in Toronto, and colleagues set out to determine which of four typical fonts patients with age-related macular degeneration could read better. 

Age-related macular degeneration is a condition that gradually destroys the macula. The macula is the part of the eye that provides the sharp vision needed for seeing objects clearly. The condition does not cause total blindness and using side (peripheral) vision is still possible. 

The study included 24 patients, average age 82, with bilateral (both eyes) age-related macular degeneration. Patients were recruited from an eye clinic and had no other medical conditions that affected their eyes or ability to think. 

Reading performance on four different fonts was tested using custom-made versions of the MNRead acuity chart. The MNRead uses continuous reading charts with a series of sentences that are identical in difficulty and length. The size of the words gets smaller and smaller as the test progresses. 

The MNRead measures three areas of reading: reading acuity (the smallest print that could be read without significant errors); maximum reading speed (highest speed text can be read without being limited by print size); and critical print size (smallest print size that can be read with maximum speed). 

Researchers used four different fonts for the custom-made charts. Fonts included Times New Roman (serif, proportionally spaced), Courier (serif, mono spaced), Arial (sans serif, proportionally spaced) and Andale Mono (sans serif, mono spaced). 

Serifs are small lines tailing from the edges of letters. Sans serifs means it doesn't have the small lines tailing. Proportionally spaced means the font uses a different amount of horizontal space depending on the width of the letter. Mono spaced means each letter occupies the same amount of space. 

Authors noted that agencies for the blind recommend common fonts that are sans serif and proportionally spaced. 

Results indicated that the reading acuity of the patients was significantly better with Courier font compared to the other fonts. 

Researchers suggested that Courier may better allow these patients to read because of the larger spacing between the letters. In addition, the presence of serifs may have contributed to easier reading compared to the other fonts. 

Type of font did not affect maximum reading speed or critical print size.

"Thus, it may be more important to identify a font that will allow these patients to read smaller print rather than focus on a font that would only modestly improve their maximum  reading speed," the authors noted.

This study, titled "Courier: a better font for reading with age-related macular degeneration," was published in the Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology. It was funded by the Milton Harris Fund for Adult Macular Degeneration, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Vision Science Research Program, Toronto Western Hospital and Sandra and David Smith postdoctoral fellowship. Dr. Tarita-Nistor and colleagues disclosed no conflicts of interest.