Top 4 tips to avoid nasty falls, from an eye specialist

May 23, 2021
The most common cause of fall-related injury cases for those aged 65 and over was ‘fall on the same level from slipping, tripping and stumbling’ (34 per cent). Source: Getty

Did you know that 75 per cent of all injury hospitalisations for those 65 and over in Australia are caused by a fall? It’s no secret this is a significant issue as we age. One major factor increasing our risk of falls is age-related vision loss.

Our eyes experience wear and tear much like the rest of our body and can deteriorate over time. Health conditions such as glaucoma and cataracts are common among people over 60.

Why does age-related vision loss cause us to fall?

There are two elements that increase our chances of falling due to poor vision. Firstly, an inability to identify tripping obstacles, and secondly, balance.

A 2017 government study found the most common cause of fall-related injury cases for those aged 65 and over was ‘fall on the same level from slipping, tripping and stumbling’ (34 per cent). Falls from household objects (15 per cent) made up the next largest proportion of cases — the main culprits being beds, chairs, stairs and steps, and ladders. It’s an obvious one, but if we can’t see a tripping hazard ahead of us then it’s difficult to avoid.

The second vision-related element increasing vulnerability to falls is the importance of our eyes for balance. Our eyes are constantly sending signals to the balance systems in our inner ear to help us keep on our feet. With compromised vision, we’re missing a whole lot of information about the world around us, which is helping us to stay balanced and avoid taking a tumble. 

Many people think falls are unpredictable accidents we have no control over. This is not the case. There is clear evidence that falls are associated with low vision. And with 90 per cent of vision loss preventable, we can significantly reduce our vulnerability to falls by looking after our eyes.

Here are four simple steps to help keep you on your feet:

1. Allow your eyes a moment to adjust to the light
We need triple the amount of light to see at 65 than we did at 20 years old. It also takes those over 60 far longer to adjust to changes in light, compromising our vision when stepping outside or into a brightly lit space. Let your eyes adjust to changes in light, whether you’re going from light to dark or vice versa. Optometrists also recommend keeping the lights on while moving around the house in the evening.

2. Get the right glasses for the job
The right prescription is essential to ensure you’re getting the appropriate vision correction to suit your eyes. Optometrists warn patients against buying over-the-counter glasses. Specs that aren’t fitted with your prescription will most likely not be giving you the best possible vision and increase your likelihood of falling.

But this is only one part of the story. Be sure you know which glasses are for which situation, whether that’s driving, reading or going for a walk around the block. Yes, it may be inconvenient if you need to swap pairs throughout the day, but this is insignificant compared with a trip to the hospital. If you wear multifocals or bifocals, it’s recommended to take extra care in your steps as they can make it difficult to judge your foot placements. 

3. Assess your surroundings
If you are having difficulty with your vision, avoid clutter on the floors in your home and make sure you always have pathways clear. Try to avoid rushing, particularly on stairs and on changing surfaces such as wet tiles, or during autumn when there are leaves on the footpath.

4. If you notice changes in your eyesight, consult your local optometrist immediately
It might be easy to dismiss slight changes in your vision, but consulting an optometrist on these developments is the best way to get ahead of any serious eye problems in the future.

If you notice any key warning signs, such as spots in your vision, distorted vision or eye discomfort, visit your optometrist immediately. If it’s difficult to get out of the house, many optometrists also offer ‘at home’ appointments to make things easier.

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About Luke Arundel: Luke Arundel is the national professional services manager of Optometry Australia. He graduated with honours in optometry from the Queensland University of Technology in 1998 and has worked extensively in Australia and Ireland. He holds fellowships with the BCLA, CCLSA and IACLE and became an Adj.Ass Prof. of the University of Missouri, St Louis, USA in 2008.
His professional interests include keratoconus, post-graft and scleral lens fitting, dry eye, ortho-k and paediatric contact lenses. He has worked in specialty contact lens practices in Brisbane and Melbourne and in the contact lens manufacturing field, along with time in the public health and education sectors.
Luke’s role at Optometry Australia sees him provide professional services assistance to members in audits, investigations and medico-legal matters, along with leading development of resources and special projects.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

Did you find this article helpful? Have you suffered from a fall?

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