Changing Vision and Your Risk of Falling

 

As we age, our bodies change, including our eyes and the parts of our brains responsible for processing visual information. Some of these changes include a reduction in acuity, or the ability to see fine detail; loss of some peripheral vision; slowing of light/dark adaptation; and lessening of contrast sensitivity. These visual changes can put us at higher risk for falls or injury.

Low Cost Vision Care

Eye exams and glasses can be expensive. However, some resources are available for low-income Seattle-King County residents. In addition to the following, contact your local senior center to ask about free vision screening events during the coming year.

AAA Health and Wellness Discounts

AARP Vision Discounts

America's Best

EyeCare America

Eye Center at Harborview/UW Medical Center

Lions/Millionair Club Eye Care

Optometric Center

Optometry Cares

Washington Academy of Eye Physicians & Surgeons

Washington Women in Need

YWCA Seattle/King/Snohomish

Zenni Optical

Some visual changes, such as those that affect peripheral vision, can directly affect balance. Others can make it difficult to see hazards, especially stair or curb edges or obstacles that are present in lower light conditions, which put people at increased risk of tripping. Fortunately, there are a number of changes that older adults can make to their homes to improve safety and support their changing vision.

Having adequate lighting—especially in problem areas such as stairwells—is vital. Simple and inexpensive ways to improve lighting include adding nightlights to the pathway between the bedroom and bathroom, to improve safety at night when getting up to use the toilet; using the strongest wattage of light bulbs that are safe for lamps; and making sure that light bulbs are free of dust, which can lessen their brightness.

Having consistent levels of lighting throughout the home, rather than areas of dark and areas of light, can also make it easier to see obstacles in the environment and create less need for people's visual systems to adapt to changing light levels. Carrying a pocket flashlight can also be useful, especially when going out into the community, where people do not have direct control over the lighting.

Use of contrast can also make it easier to see features of the environment that may be lost. For example, the use of a colored bathmat in a white tub can make it easier to see the bottom of the tub. Because stair edges can be
a problem area for many people, it can be helpful to mark the edges of the stairs with a color that contrasts with the stair itself, thus highlighting the edge of the stairs. Stair edges should be marked with a contrasting color (such as black on a light colored surface) with paint or with tape that is designed for high traffic areas.

Organization and simplification of the home environment is also vital, especially in regularly used pathways. It is important to keep the pathways free of clutter. Simplifying patterns can also be helpful, such as by removing throw rugs with visually complicated patterns than can make it difficult to see trip hazards.

By implementing some of these changes, older adults can support their changing visual systems and help make their home environments safer as they age.

—Tatiana Kaminsky, PhD, OTR/L, University of Puget Sound


Tatiana Kaminsky, PhD, OTR/L is an associate professor in the Occupational Therapy Program at University of Puget Sound.