It’s not uncommon for an elderly person to have a fall — but did you know that one of the main causes is poor or impaired vision? In fact, vision problems can more than double the risk of falls occurring in older or elderly people.3
Understandably, it can be a worrying time if you or someone you care for experiences a fall. Thankfully, there are several things you can do to reduce the risk or prevent them from happening again in future. Here, we’ll take a deeper look into some of the common causes of falls — including poor vision — and explain how a home eye test can help.

The impact of falls when you’re older

Around one-third of people above the age of 65, and half of people above the age of 80, suffer at least one fall every year.2 Most falls don’t result in any serious injury, but when you’re older, there is an increased risk of long-term impacts on your physical and emotional health. For instance, some elderly people might experience broken bones, hip fractures or decreased mobility, not to mention the long-term impacts on mental wellbeing.1 For some elderly people, falls can lead to a loss of confidence and sense of independence. 

What are some common causes of falls in the elderly?

There are a number of reasons why an older person might have a fall. These include:  

  • Impaired vision
  • Poor strength and balance
  • Side effects of medications (disorientation, blurred vision)
  • An underlying health condition (such as hypertension) which can lead to loss of balance and dizziness
  • Inadequate lighting in the home
  • Trip hazards such as rugs or electrical cords
  • Slippery or uneven surfaces

How can poor vision increase the risk of falls in old age?

Impaired vision more than doubles the risk of an older or elderly person having a fall.3 Among other reasons, this is because poor eyesight can reduce contrast sensitivity and depth perception. Age-related eye conditions such as glaucoma can also cause blind spots in vision, making it more difficult to spot and respond to obstacles. For instance, an older person may suffer a fall because they misjudge the depth of a step on the staircase, or fail to see an object that blends into the background in a dimly-lit room.

Poor vision can also affect your vestibular system (which provides the brain with information about movement and spatial orientation) making it more difficult to stay balanced and steady on your feet. It’s therefore really important to make sure you, or someone you care for, has regular eye tests, especially into old age.  

How to prevent falls caused by poor vision

Regular eye tests are one of the most reliable ways to prevent vision-related falls in the elderly before they can occur. Even if you already wear glasses, there’s still a risk that an old or out-of-date prescription could reduce your vision further, becoming more of a hindrance than a help.

Regular eye tests can also help to identify conditions like cataracts and glaucoma, which can help to reduce the risk of falls if treated early. For example, studies show that in older patients with visual impairment due to cataracts, surgery can significantly reduce their risk of experiencing a fall.4

How can a home eye test help?

If getting to your local optician unaccompanied is difficult due to a physical or mental disability, you might be eligible for a free NHS-funded home eye test. They’re a reliable way to ensure you have your eyes checked regularly, particularly if you have limited mobility. A visiting optician can conduct an in-depth examination within the home in order to check for signs of visual impairment, as well as to detect any underlying eye conditions.

If, for instance, an older person undergoes cataract surgery, it’s likely that their glasses prescription will need changing. For those who qualify, a visiting optician can perform a full eye test at home in order to determine a new glasses prescription.

It’s also essential to have an eye test after a fall - if the injured party has been left house or bed-bound this can be done in their home. An eye test could help uncover any underlying eye conditions that might have caused the fall and prevent another from happening in future. To find out whether you or someone you care for qualifies for a free NHS-funded home eye test, visit our eligibility page.

Our team of experienced opticians provides a comprehensive range of eye care services, including a free NHS-funded home eye test. To learn more about Specsavers home care (domiciliary) services, simply visit our home eye tests page.

References

1. Chiu AS, Jean RA, Fleming M, Pei KY. Recurrent falls among elderly patients and the impact of anticoagulation therapy. World J Surg. 2018 Dec;42(12):3932-8. PMID: 29959494. [Online]. Available at:https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29959494/ [Accessed 17 June 2020].

2. Age UK. (no date). Later Life in the United Kingdom 2019. [Online]. Available at:https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/later_life_uk_factsheet.pdf [Accessed 17 June 2020].

3. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). Making eye health a population health imperative: Vision for tomorrow. National Academies Press.

4. Brannan S, Dewar C, Sen J, Clarke D, Marshall T, Murray PI. A prospective study of the rate of falls before and after cataract surgery. Br J Ophthalmol. 2003;87(5):560-562. [Online]. Available at:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1771665/ [Accessed 17 June 2020].