Older adults commonly report problems in visual search tasks and experience a higher incidence of mobility problems (e.g. falls and vehicle crashes), which involve visual skills. We examined whether target localization problems in the elderly can be adequately explained by impairments in peripheral visual sensitivity, or whether deficits in higher order visual processing are also contributory. Fifty-nine older adults (59-88 yr) who exhibited varying degress of visual field loss (none to severe) were asked to localize briefly-presented, high-contrast targets (3 × 5 deg) in the central 60 deg (diameter) of the visual field, while simultaneously performing a visual discrimination task at fixation. Visual sensitivity accounted for only 36% of the variance in localization performance across subjects, and this relationship grew weaker (13%) when the target was embedded in distracting stimuli, suggesting that impaired attentional skills also underlie older adults' localization problems. Not surprisingly, older adults with severe visual field loss were also poor at localizing targets. However, about half of those older patients with normal or near-normal visual fields also had severe localization problems. These results indicate that despite having good visual field sensitivity, many older adults have serious difficulty locating objects of interest in the environment. This study illustrates that clinical tests for identifying visual performance problems in the elderly must embody stimulus and task features which better reflect the visual demands of everyday life. © 1995 Elsevier Science Ltd.