Vision Problems Commonly Lead Older Adults to Limit Activity for Fear of Falling, New Study Finds

Eye Exams Important for Older Adults - Vision Problems Lead to Curtailed Activities for Fear of Falling, Study FindsA new study by doctors at the University of Montreal and an associated Montreal hospital have found that about half of seniors with visually impairing eye diseases report limiting their social activities due to fear of falling. This also places the seniors at risk for social isolation and disability, the study authors report.

The new study was published online in the Journal of Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.

“I was … surprised at how frequently people with eye disease reported limiting their activities due to fear of falling,” Ellen Freeman, of the ophthalmology department at the University of Montreal, an author of the study, said in a news release issued by the publisher. “Clearly, this is something that is affecting many people with eye disease.”

Dr. Freeman also pointed out that the study findings are relevant not only to older patients with vision problems, but also to their family caregivers, physicians and other professionals providing low vision rehabilitation services. “It is important to know more about which activities are being limited due to fear of falling. We can then develop and test interventions to help people feel more confident about their ability to safely do those activities,” Dr. Freeman said.

The Study; Method

The researchers studied 345 patients from the ophthalmology clinics of Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital in Montreal. Of the participants, 93 had age-related macular degeneration (AMD), 57 had Fuchs corneal dystrophy (Fuchs), and 98 had glaucoma. All of these conditions resulted in visual impairment of the patients. Another 97 of the participants were in a control group of older adults with good vision.

Each patient answered questionnaires about the extent to which they limited their social activities due to a fear of falling. They also underwent vision tests, which measured “visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and visual field.” In addition, the patients’ medical records were reviewed, as part of the study.

Findings

The results of the study showed that 40 to 50 percent of the older adults with visually impairing eye diseases reported limiting their activities due to a fear of falling, while only 16 percent of the control group with normal vision reported limiting their activity due to a fear of falling.

The researchers also found that “After adjustment for age, sex, race, number of comorbidities, cognition, and lens opacity, the Fuchs group was most likely to report activity limitation due to a fear of falling, … followed by the glaucoma group … and the AMD group.” The scientists suggested that “Contrast sensitivity best explained these associations.”

The researchers also found that the patients who reported limiting their activities due to a fear of falling were older, were more likely to be females, had worse vision, were more likely to be depressed, and had greater comorbidity.

Conclusions; Implications

“Activity limitation due to a fear of falling is very common in older adults with visually impairing eye disease. Although this compensatory strategy may protect against falls, it may also put people at risk for social isolation and disability,” the study authors wrote in conclusion.

“It is important to know more about which activities are being limited due to fear of falling,” said study author Ellen Freeman. “We can then develop and test interventions to help people feel more confident about their ability to safely do those activities,” she said.

“If we could develop a brief, effective intervention focused on select activities, I would like to see it offered in the clinical setting. Then, we could encourage people to see a low vision rehabilitation specialist if they want more training,” Dr. Freeman suggested.

In a conclusion to their study report, the study authors advocate that older adults with eye disease should stay as mobile as safely possible. This is important to help lower their risk of medical conditions, disability, and death associated with a sedentary lifestyle and limited mobility.

More Information

For more information on medical conditions commonly faced by seniors and caregivers, including news, and information on what are these conditions and what causes them; symptoms & diagnosis, prevention, treatments, and caregiving, see the HelpingYouCare® resource pages on Medical Conditions Commonly Faced by Seniors, including resource pages on 15 different health conditions, including among them:

See also our resource pages on Wellness/ Healthy Living for Seniors & Caregivers, including, among others, pages on:

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