Poor vision could cause you this surprising problem
Practically everyone knows that falls are dangerous for people who are aging. But did you know good vision is a key element in preventing falls?
A study in the journal Scientific Reports found that volunteers whose vision was artificially blurred lifted their first foot 43% higher and moved 10% more slowly over an obstacle in their path compared to the control group. The study’s authors theorized that the slower crossing and increased clearance leaves a person in a more unsteady position for a longer time, which makes them more susceptible to falling.
The study monitored participants as they navigated a course with and without an obstacle that was about the height of an average curb. Some walks were made with normal vision and others with lenses that blurred their vision enough to qualify them as visually impaired. Volunteers had consistently higher anxiety levels while visually impaired.
“At our hospital, more than 50% of admissions to the emergency department that involve falls are for people older than 55,” says Susan Grossinger, Senior Services Coordinator at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill. “Vision impairment and hearing loss both contribute to falls as people age.”
“The problem is that once a person has taken a bad fall, they tend to stop doing things they really enjoy because they are fearful it could result in a fall,” Grossinger says. “Research shows clearly that reducing activities also reduces a person’s flexibility, strength, ability to balance and increases their risk of falling. So it makes things worse instead of better. It may start people on the road to losing their independence more quickly.”
Advocate Good Shepherd is one of the hospitals in the Chicago area that offers A Matter of Balance classes to teach fall prevention to senior citizens.
“We teach people to modify their environment and behavior to stay safer. For instance, when sidewalks are slippery from snow and ice, we suggest walking on the grass instead,” Grossinger says. “People who love to garden can continue to garden if they have a stool or chair nearby so that they feel more secure about being able to get up if they have a fall.”
Fall prevention programs for seniors often recommend low-impact exercises such as tai chi or yoga to help improve balance. Such exercises increase both flexibility and strength, which help people feel more confident about avoiding falls.
Learning from a peer group is important to many fall prevention programs. Participants are encouraged to share strategies that have worked for them. Being in the company of other people who have had similar experiences is a time-tested way to provide support and encouragement.
When people learn how much clear vision, strength and flexibility matter, they can live a more balanced life in every way.
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About the Author
Jo Linsley, a health enews contributor, is a digital content strategist at Advocate Aurora Health. With decades of experience in writing and editing, she continues to aspire to concise and inspiring writing. She also enjoys knitting and singing as creative outlets and for their meditative qualities.