According to an article published in Optometry and Vision Science, the official journal of the American Academy of Optometry, blurred vision may be a risk factor for falls in older adults, but getting new glasses with a significant change in vision prescription may increase the risk of falls rather than decreasing it. The review concludes that optometrists can help to prevent falls by avoiding over-aggressive vision correction in older patients at-risk. Reduced vision is an important risk factor in falls, and a number of studies have shown little or no reduction in falls among older adults receiving a new vision correction.

David B. Elliott, PhD, author of the study and 2013 recipient of the Glenn A. Fry Lecture Award, explains that magnification in one study may have contributed to the increase in fall risk. Elliott states, “Some of the subjects received large changes in spectacle prescription….Older frail people may have greater difficulty adapting to such changes and be at increased risk of falling during this adaptation period.”

Unaccustomed magnification may cause objects to appear closer or farther away than they really are, which affects the reflexes linking the vestibular system with eye movements. A news report from Science Daily notes that for older patients who are not used to bifocals and “progressive lenses,” switching to these types of lenses may cause distortion in peripheral vision. One step optometrists can take to prevent falls is to assess risk factors, including medical conditions, history of falls, and medications used.

Elliott also suggests taking a “conservative” approach to prescribing new glasses for older adults with a history of falls or risk factors for falling. Elliott also recommends patients keep the same type of lens unless there’s a significant reason for change. He writes in the study, “Progressive lenses or bifocals should never be prescribed to patients who are used to wearing single-vision glasses and who could be characterized at risk for falls.”

Sources: Optometry and Vision Science, Science Daily