The ability to detect changes in the environment which occur outside the focus of current awareness is essential if the individual is to be able to divert attention to biologically salient stimuli. The preattentional mechanism underlying the automatic detection of stimulus change in the auditory modality has been extensively studied by recording an event-related potential known as the mismatch negativity. Recently a homologous response from the visual cortex has also been described. Ageing has been shown to affect the efficiency of preattentional processing in the auditory modality, a factor which may contribute to cognitive changes in the elderly. It is unclear whether a similar effect occurs in the visual system. To investigate this issue the visual mismatch negativity was recorded from 12 older adults and 24 younger adults. Whereas the younger adults displayed a robust visual MMN, that evoked in the older adults was significantly reduced in amplitude. The results are indicative of age-related deficits in automatic visual processing.