It is recommended that older adults have their vision tested regularly.
Vision plays a key role in the balance control required to carry out daily activities. Older adults rely more heavily on visual information to maintain their balance, in comparison to middle-aged or young adults. As people age, it is common for their visual function to decrease. This is associated with an increased risk of falling. Normal vision allows people to identify hazards or obstacles in their environment and navigate around them safely. Poor vision impairs these abilities and can cause older adults to trip and fall.
Vision impairment is a risk factor for falls and falls-related fractures. Specific falls risk factors related to eyesight include:
- The use of outdated or incorrect prescription lenses
- The use of multifocal lenses
- Eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration
The New York Times Article, Bracing for the Falls of an Aging Nation provides examples of pictures of everyday obstacles that may be more challenging with ageing eyes e.g. stairs and toilet seats.
Wearing multifocal lens glasses can double an older adult’s risk of falling as it distorts the lower visual field. Older adults perform significantly poorer on tests of depth perception and edge contrast sensitivity whilst wearing multifocal lens glasses, which puts them at greater risk of falling, particularly when outside. Falls risk can be reduced through the use of an additional pair of single lens distance glasses in place of multifocal glasses.
It is important to note that the provision of new glasses alone is not an effective falls prevention strategy. Such changes are more effective when implemented within an additional falls prevention intervention. Older adults may also be at greater falls risk whilst they are adapting to the changes in their prescription. It is important to encourage older adults to take time to adjust to any new glasses.
Eyes change slowly over time and may go unnoticed. They may be the result of the development of eye disorders such as:
If you are interested in demonstrating the effect that common eye conditions may have on someone’s daily tasks, Vision Australia can provide free educational resources such as eye masks which can simulate these conditions.
For more information about eye conditions, Vision Australia have developed a short video which describes how these conditions may impact on someone’s life.
Cataract removal surgery is effective at reducing falls. Expedited cataract surgery (four weeks wait period) has the potential to decrease an older adults falls risk by one third in comparison to if they had waited for 12 months. Cataract surgery can lead to significant improvements in vision and balance confidence whilst decreasing visual disability and symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Questions to ask when talking to older adults about their eyesight:
- Have you recently had your eyesight checked?
- Are your glasses clean? Scratched? Working and appropriate for the activities you are undertaking?
- Is the lighting of your house and surroundings adequate?
- Are you having trouble judging how far things are away? Do you find yourself missing the shelf when placing items on shelves?
To search for optometrists in an older adult’s local area click here. You can also find optometrists who provide home visits.
Other tips for maintaining healthy eyesight – ultraviolet light
It is also recommended that people of all ages protect their eyes from Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. Exposure to UV light can contribute to the onset of eye diseases including Cataracts and age-related Macular Degeneration. The vision impairment caused by both of these conditions can increase an older adult’s risk of falling.
To prevent damage caused by UV light exposure, it is recommended that older adults wear sunglasses with a high eye protective factor and also take other measures such as wearing a broad-brimmed hat whilst outdoors. Older adults with prescription glasses should speak to their optometrist to ensure that they receive sunglasses suitable for their vision correction requirements and lifestyle.