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Older adults with common eye diseases at higher risk for falls, injuries

(Washington Post Illustration; iStock)
2 min

Older adults with certain eye diseases — cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or glaucoma — are more likely to fall and break bones than other older adults, according to a study conducted in England and published in JAMA Ophthalmology.

The researchers analyzed data from more than a decade of medical records from 3.4 million people (average age 74), including more than 576,000 who had one of the eye diseases. The study tracked fractures as well as falls, finding that the risk for both was highest among people with glaucoma (38 percent more likely to have fallen than those who did not have the disease, and 31 percent more likely to have sustained a fracture), followed by those with cataracts (36 and 28 percent more likely) and then AMD (25 and 18 percent more likely).

The researchers noted, however, that data from the health records did not confirm that the recorded fractures were the result of the recorded falls.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year more than 3 million U.S. residents 65 or older are treated in an emergency department for injuries from a fall. Although falls can have many causes, common ones include balance problems, weak leg muscles, low blood pressure and dizziness or confusion caused by medication or alcohol.

The three eye diseases tracked by the study are among the most common affecting older people, but symptoms are often subtle, with people not realizing early on that they have a disease. AMD affects central vision and the ability to see fine details. Glaucoma involves damage to the optic nerve, often as a result of increased fluid pressure inside the eyes. Cataracts cloud the lens, leading to blurry vision or a loss of central vision.

The study findings “further build the evidence,” the researchers wrote, that “all 3 eye diseases are important risk factors for falls and fractures,” warranting “improved advice, access, and referrals to fall prevention services” for older people with eye disease.

This article is part of The Post’s “Big Number” series, which takes a brief look at the statistical aspect of health issues. Additional information and relevant research are available through the hyperlinks.