Taking care of your eyes is a priority just like eating a healthy diet and exercise. Healthy vision can also help keep you safe each day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of injury for older adults. Each year, one in four Americans 65 and older experiences a fall and many are related to impaired vision.
A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that more than 25 percent of older adult participants with vision problems had recurrent falls. Falls can be devastating to an older body and may result in serious injuries such as fractures and head trauma. This can lead to decreased mobility and loss of independence or even death.
According to the CDC, older adults with impaired vision or who are at risk for vision impairment often have other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease, which also increase the risk of falling. Some medications used to manage these conditions can also cause dizziness, drowsiness and/or muscle weakness, which can make a person more likely to fall. Other causes of falls include safety hazards in the home, such as unsecured or poorly placed furniture, rugs or electrical cords.
What can you do?
Although falls can cause serious injury, the good news is that they are preventable. Older people can reduce their likelihood of falling with a few simple, preventative tips.
- Have your vision regularly checked. Even small changes in sight can lead to a fall. It is important to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year to check for eye conditions and reduce the risk of permanent vision loss. This is also an opportunity to update your glasses or contact lens prescription, if needed.
- Know your risk. Know your family’s eye health history. It’s important to know if anyone has been diagnosed with an eye disease or condition, since some are hereditary. An eye care professional can educate you about your risk of vision problems and what symptoms you should look out for.
- Wear your eyewear or contact lenses. If you need glasses or contacts, wear them in all appropriate situations, especially when you have to be mobile. If you have a new prescription, it can sometimes be a difficult adjustment. Allow yourself time to get used to new glasses or contacts.
- Know the side effects of medications. If a medicine causes dizziness or drowsiness, consult your doctor. Health care providers should review medications periodically to see if side effects, such as drowsiness or dizziness, could increase the risk of falls.
- Make your environment safer. Remove throw rugs or use double-sided tape to keep them from slipping. Place furniture and décor items where they can be clearly seen and will not create a tripping hazard. Secure electrical cords and make sure they are out of the walkways. Install handrails on stairs and grab bars in the bathroom/shower.
- Light it up. In your home, make sure all rooms and hallways are well lit and have easily accessible switches or motion sensor lights. You may want to consider adding extra lighting such as lamps and/or nightlights.
- Change your footwear. Wear non-skid, rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes or lace-up shoes with non-skid soles that fully support your feet. It is important that the soles are not too thin or too thick. Don’t walk on stairs or floors in socks or in shoes and slippers with smooth soles.
If you do have a fall, it is important that you tell your doctor. A fall can alert a doctor to a new medical problem or problems with medications or eyesight that can be corrected. Even if your fall is minor, you should let them know. A doctor may suggest physical therapy, a walking aid or other steps to help prevent future falls.