Caring For Your Eyes Can Reduce Falls

By Matt Narrett, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Erickson Senior Living
June 19, 2024

Today's seniors know more about the risks and consequences of falls than previous generations. Studies show, however, that despite this increased awareness, falls remain the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for people 65 and older. 

Up to one third of older adults who live at home fall, and two thirds of those who have fallen in the past year will fall again. 

Many factors increase your risk of falling, including reduced muscle strength, joint stiffness, poor balance, having multiple health conditions, medication side effects, hearing loss, and changes in vision--our focus for today. 

Are you at risk?

Having impaired vision doubles your risk of falls. While eye diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration can profoundly affect your vision, age-related changes can occur so gradually over time that you may not even notice a decreased ability to judge distance, depth, or obstacles in your path. 

As a result, simply going about your daily routine--walking, using stairs, stretching for an out-of-reach item--can be hazardous. Not to mention navigating cluttered walkways, uneven surfaces, and poorly lit areas.

Taking care of your eyes requires a lot more than getting new eyewear. You should also have contrast sensitivity tests and assessments of your visual fields done. Following through with recommendations such as wearing certain glasses and contacts or having cataract surgery is essential. 

Care for you and your space, too

In addition, regular checkups with your primary care provider may help you manage other health conditions that can affect your eyes, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or dry eyes. Your doctor may also suggest activities or changes to your daily routine that can reduce your risk of falling.

You may also want to modify your environment. Keep your walkways and stairs clear of clutter, including mail, plants, and electrical cords. Area rugs should be removed or secured firmly to the floor. Use no-slip strips on tile and wood floors. Install handrails and grab bars, especially in the bathroom. In the kitchen, keep items you need at waist level or keep a grabber tool nearby. For those nighttime bathroom trips, place a night-light in your bathroom. 

If you would like expert help modifying your house or identifying vision accommodations, talk to your doctor about obtaining a referral to an occupational therapist. 

Stay active

People with impaired vision and people who have fallen before may be afraid that a fall is in their future. Studies show that feeling fearful actually increases your risk of falls, because you tend to limit physical or social activity in an effort to be safer. This lack of activity is harmful! (Note that being reasonably cautious about falling is different.) 

The wise move is to make changes to decrease that risk. Physical exercise can increase your strength and flexibility. Balance training has also been shown to be an effective preventive strategy.

Safeguarding your vision can decrease your risk of a life-changing fall and help you preserve your independence. There is so much that can be done to help, so please take action and speak with your primary care provider.

To learn how health care providers at Erickson Senior Living communities support residents' eye health and overall well-being, request a brochure today.