posted by Dr. Mark Ruchman, Versant Health
on November 11, 2020
Falls are the leading cause of injuries for older Americans. More, the risk of a fall doubles for older adults with conditions that impair vision. Fortunately, preventative measures can significantly reduce this risk – keeping seniors at home and out of the hospital.
Most falls are caused by a combination of risk factors, with the likelihood of a fall increasing with the number of risk factors a person has. A few of these risk factors include lower body weakness, vitamin D deficiency, improper footwear, certain medications and vision problems. Although not all of these risk factors can be prevented, by understanding their relationship with fall probability, seniors and their families can take steps to mitigate fall risk.
For many adults, vision quality deteriorates with age. By the age of 65, 1 in every 3 individuals has some form of vision-reducing eye disease, such as diabetic retinopathy. November is also Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, an important reminder to recognize the ways that diabetic retinopathy – and other vision conditions like farsightedness, cataracts, glaucoma, poor depth perception and loss of peripheral vision – contribute to seniors’ risk of falling.
In a cyclical pattern exacerbating risk, many older adults with limited vision become afraid of falling and choose to limit their physical activity, ultimately making them frailer and more apt to fall.
The financial toll of degenerative eye conditions and falls can be devastating. Even without a fall, unmanaged degenerative vision conditions can wreak havoc on a family’s finances. For instance, diabetic retinopathy currently costs the United States an estimated $237 billion annually.
When coupled with a fall, the outlook is even more grim. Each year about $754 million is spent on fatal falls and $50 billion is spent on non-fatal fall injuries. Worse, if this pattern continues, costs will only increase. The National Council on Aging predicts that costs may rise to $67.7 billion this year.
Preventative Measures to Reduce Falls Among Seniors
Although the risk of falls increases with age, falling is not an inevitable result of aging. Preventative measures like careful medication management and routine eye exams, including for visual acuity, can significantly reduce risk and health care spending.
Routine eye exams are one of the best ways to spot deteriorating eye health and detect as many as 30 chronic conditions (like diabetes) that contribute to falls, often before patients exhibit symptoms. Because early diagnosis and treatment is essential to effectively manage these conditions, and to also minimize the human and financial impacts of falls, seniors should take measures like regular eye screenings to preserve their quality of life and avoid preventable hospital stays during this risky time of year.