PURPOSE. To explore the effects of glaucoma and aging on low-spatial-frequency contrast sensitivity by using tests designed to assess performance of either the magnocellular (M) or parvocellular (P) visual pathways.METHODS. Contrast sensitivity was measured for spatial frequencies of 0.25 to 2 cyc/deg by using a published steady- and pulsed-pedestal approach. Sixteen patients with glaucoma and 16 approximately age-matched control subjects participated. Patients with glaucoma were tested foveally and at two midperipheral locations: (1) an area of early visual field loss, and (2) an area of normal visual field. Control subjects were assessed in matched locations. An additional group of 12 younger control subjects (aged 20-35 years) were also tested.RESULTS. Older control subjects demonstrated reduced sensitivity relative to the younger group for the steady (presumed M)and pulsed (presumed P)-pedestal conditions. Sensitivity was reduced foveally and in the midperiphery across the spatial frequency range. In the area of early visual field loss, the glaucoma group demonstrated further sensitivity reduction relative to older control subjects across the spatial frequency range for both the steady- and pulsed-pedestal tasks. Sensitivity was also reduced in the midperipheral location of "normal" visual field for the pulsed condition.CONCLUSIONS. Normal aging results in a reduction of contrast sensitivity for the low-spatial-frequency-sensitive components of both the M and P pathways. Glaucoma results in a further reduction of sensitivity that is not selective for M or P function. The low-spatial-frequency-sensitive channels of both pathways, which are presumably mediated by cells with larger receptive fields, are approximately equivalently impaired in early glaucoma.