It seems that every single one of us over the age of 55 may experience the effects of cataracts – an opaque or cloudy area covering what’s normally a clear lens in the eye. Not only can cataracts impair our normal vision, but an increasing number of studies suggest that it may be one of the top reasons for falls among the elderly, according to a recent study by the Association for Research (ARVO) in Vision and Ophthalmology.
Over half of Americans will experience cataracts by the age of 80. Cataracts are the most common cause of surgically treatable poor vision among the elderly and have also been linked to an increased risk of falls and related injuries, the article notes.
Studies suggest that poor vision and vision loss is a major contributor towards higher risk of falling among seniors. Cataracts and other age-related eye problems can weaken an individual’s visual acuity and depth perception, thereby impairing their ability to maintain stability, balance, and mobility. Clouded vision as a result of cataracts can make it difficult for individuals to drive, especially at night, or to read or see expressions on people’s faces. Among the elderly, impaired vision from cataracts can also increase their risk of falls and fall-related injuries, such as head injuries and hip fractures. Aging causes bones to become more susceptible to breaking, thus making hip fractures a major concern among older people. In addition, recovering from such injuries can be difficult for them.
Symptoms of cataracts include the following:
1. Blurred, fogged or dim vision
2. Sensitivity to glare and light
3. Seeing halos around lights
4. Poor vision at night
5. Needing brighter light to perform everyday activities, such as reading
6. Double vision in one eye
7. Yellowing or fading colors
8. Needing to change eyeglass prescriptions frequently
At first, individuals may be able to cope with clouded vision by using brighter lights and changing their eyeglass prescription. However, as the cataract grows, it may cloud the eye lens further, distorting light passing through it. This leads to more noticeable symptoms, thus requiring cataract surgery. Fortunately, cataract surgery is effective and generally safe.
And, for elders, surgery may help stabilize our walking and keep us away from that fear of falling.
Further, according to the ARVO study, falls experienced by older people with poor vision can be drastically reduced with cataract surgery. The research conducted with 400 people, who were over the age of 50 and had cataracts; found that having cataract surgery in just one affected eye reduced the rate of falls among participants by a whopping 78%.
Although cataract surgery is a highly effective procedure in restoring full vision, long wait times can increase the risk of falls among elderly patients. There is evidence that the rate of falls can significantly be reduced by undergoing cataract surgery sooner. According to one UK study, there was a 34% reduction in falls among cataract patients waiting for surgery when patients underwent cataract surgery from 12 months to 1 month. According to a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association, when older adults have cataract surgery, they not only improve their vision but they also significantly reduce their risk of falling and fracturing their hips.
The study found that people in their 80s and individuals with serious health conditions, such as heart disease, benefited the most from the surgery. These patients experienced a 30% reduction in hip fractures the year they had cataract surgery. The study conducted with over 400,000 Medicare patients, compared patients who had cataract surgery with patients who did not undergo cataracts surgery.