If you or a relative suffer from frequent falls, a visit to the optometrist would be a great idea.
While there are other reasons besides vision for falling frequently, such as poor mobility or balance, consider the following measures of vision.
Visual acuity – measures fine detail vision
Contrast sensitivity – measures the ability to see anedge under conditions of reduced contrast. For example, a dark elevated step on a slightly darker background.
Depth perception – measures the ability to tell the physical location of objects or obstacles relative to others.
As many senior citizens suffer from conditions like cataracts or age-related macular degeneration, some or all of these three measures of vision may be significantly affected, which could increase the risk of a fall or fracture. Of all vision-related factors, the single most relevant one is depth perception when it comes to the risk of multiple falls.
How do we improve depth perception?
First, we make sure that the visual acuity is maximized to the best potential. One study by Stephen Lord* found that people who had good vision in one eye and moderately reduced vision in the other had the same higher rate of falling as those who had moderate to severe vision loss in BOTH eyes! Improving the visual acuity may involve changing the glasses prescription or referring for cataract surgery, if the vision cannot be improved with glasses.
Second, we increase the lighting whenever possible. This will help the contrast problem. Usually this involves simply counseling our patients to turn on the lights in the hallway before walking through, or arranging to make the lights brighter in risky areas such as stairwells.
Finally, our doctors will often recommend “single-vision” glasses instead of bifocals or progressives to be used by our senior patients when they are up and walking. This removes the blurriness at the bottom of the lens (optimized for near vision in a multifocal) making it easier to see through this section and navigate visually while walking.
Come and see us if you or an elderly relative is falling frequently, for specific advice and recommendations to reduce this risk.
– Dr. Wilk
*Source: “Visual Risk Factors for Falls in Older People”, Stephen R. Lord, Age and Ageing 2006