It may seem obvious to some that there is a strong link between how well you can see and your chances of suffering a fall, especially as you get older. Yet our new research has revealed that it's not so obvious to almost a third (32%) of people in the UK with parents over the age 65.
Up to one in three people over 65 will experience a fall each year so it is not surprising that nearly half of those who took part in our research said they had an older friend, parent or relative who had fallen. However, it is surprising, and worrying, that fewer than three per cent of people questioned said their parents' deteriorating eyesight was a cause for concern.
The financial and human repercussions of falls are significant: Age UK estimates that the cost to the NHS of treating older people who have suffered a fall is up to £4.6m a day, and suffering a fall can seriously reduce quality of life as the chances of a full recovery reduce with age. Tragically, in some cases a fall can be fatal.
Whilst poor vision may not be the sole cause of a fall, it can be a contributory factor and a simple eye test can greatly reduce the risk of poor vision becoming a serious problem. People over 60 are entitled to free eye tests on the NHS and many older people are entitled to have that test in the comfort of their own home or care home.
Regular eye checks for older people can aid in the early detection of age-related conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts. These conditions don't have to end in complete sight loss - early detection can greatly increase the chances of preserving sight.
As well as regular sight tests, there are other things people over the age of 65 can do to reduce the risk of suffering a fall. The disorientating effects of a big change to a spectacle prescription can be lessened by discussing with your optometrist about modifying a prescription, for a period so that the full prescription can be dispensed in stages. Wearing bifocals or varifocals can make it more difficult to walk up and down stairs or kerbs, so wearing distance spectacles for outdoors or unfamiliar places could be a safer alternative.
Furthermore, certain eye conditions can reduce the ability to perceive depth, increasing the chances of tripping when going up stairs, so using contrasting colours or textures on stairs can help, as can making sure homes are well lit.
Many vision-related falls can be avoided, and as Falls Awareness Week taking place w/c 17th June, the College of Optometrists and our members continue to work to raise awareness of the importance of regular eye examinations and to encourage those over 60 to visit their optometrist more regularly as they age. But we are also calling on those caring for older people - whether family members, friends or professional carers - to look out for changes in sight and to encourage regular check-ups. Eye examinations are free for people over 60 and they can be carried out in the home if needed - it couldn't be easier than that!
More information about the College's campaign and top tips for preventing falls can be found on the College's website. www.lookafteryoureyes.org