As you get older you are more likely to fall. Poor eyesight has been linked to falling over.

What happens as you get older

It is normal for our eyes to change as we get older, normal changes include losing the ability to focus on things that are close-up (presbyopia), finding that it takes longer to adapt to changing lighting conditions and finding that we need more light to see things clearly.

Eye disease becomes more common as we age. The most common eye diseases in older people are cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.

A cataract is where the lens in your eye becomes cloudy. If you develop cataracts, you will normally get them in both eyes, although one may be worse than the other. Cataracts may simply mean that your glasses need changing more often, or that you find bright lights such as sunlight more dazzling than you used to. If the cataracts become bad enough to affect your day to day activities, you can have them removed during a routine operation.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects your central vision and your ability to see detail. This can make it difficult to read and to recognise faces but peripheral vision remains unaffected. There are two types of AMD. The dry type of AMD cannot be treated, but tends to progress slowly. The wet type of AMD can be treated if caught early and may progress very fast. Symptoms of AMD include seeing a blurry or distorted patch in the centre of your vision. If you notice this you should contact your optometrist straight away.

Glaucoma is when the pressure inside your eye causes damage to the nerve at the back of the eye. It is painless and causes no symptoms in the early stages, so it is important that you have regular eye examinations to make sure it is detected early. You are more at risk of glaucoma if you are aged over 40, very short sighted or closely related to someone with glaucoma. If left untreated, glaucoma caus blindness.

For more information on any of these conditions, talk to your optometrist or visit www.lookafteryoureyes.org

What you can do to try to maintain good eye sight

  1. Have regular eye examinations. This will allow your optometrist to spot early signs of eye disease. Most people should have an eye examination at least every two years.
  2. Stop smoking. Smoking has been linked to AMD, which is the leading cause of blindness in the UK.
  3. Eat a diet that is rich in oily fish and coloured fruit and vegetables and maintain a healthy weight. This may reduce your risk of developing AMD.
  4. Be aware of your vision in each eye separately. Many conditions appear in one eye first. If you regularly check your vision (with glasses if you need them) by covering each eye in turn, you will notice if your vision deteriorates. If you notice changes in your vision you should contact your optometrist for advice.

Who is more likely to fall?

There are several reasons why people fall over and not all are related to poor eyesight. You are most at risk of falling if you:

  • are aged over 75;
  • are a woman;
  • have fallen before;
  • have Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, diabetes, Meniere’s disease or dementia and/or; -are taking sedatives, antidepressants or more than four prescription medicines a day.

What you can do to reduce the chance of falling

  1. Try to keep your eyes healthy.
  2. Have good lighting. We recommend having lamps close to where you need the light rather than ceiling lights.
  3. Make sure you turn the lights on at home when it is dark, so that you can see where you are going.
  4. Make sure that your carpets are well fitted and do not have trip hazards, such as creases, in them. If you have a rug that is on a slippery floor, make sure that it does not slip or move when you walk on it.
  5. Wear suitable footwear when you are walking around, both at home and outside.
  6. Having a good contrast between things can make them easier to see. For example a coloured strip on steps.
  7. If you are dazzled by the sunshine when you are out, wear sunglasses that absorb the UV light and a wide brimmed hat.
  8. If your optometrist has told you that you should wear glasses for distance, you should keep them on when you are walking around outside.
  9. If you wear bifocals or varifocals, you are more likely to fall. A separate distance pair for outside is recommended.