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Poor vision leads to falls for 270,000 over-60s

Published on 21 June 2011 12:30 AM

Age UK's Falls Awareness Week 2011 calls for older people to have regular sight tests to help prevent falls

  • New research shows poor vision was a factor in 270,000 falls in people aged 60+ in the last two years
  • Lack of awareness of eye care services and eye health issues means those who need it may not be getting access to vital eye care

270,000 people in the UK aged 60+ who have fallen over in the last two years say that poor vision was a factor in their fall[i], according to new research released today to mark Age UK's Falls Awareness Week 2011 (20-24 June).

Many things can lead to a fall, but studies have shown a link between visual impairment and the incidence of falling[ii] and today's research further supports this. Age UK has teamed up with The College of Optometrists to raise awareness of this issue and to help make people aware of the eye care services available to them.

Age UK's new research also reveals that nearly two million people over 60 have not taken advantage of free sight tests in the last two years[iii]. A range of reasons were given for not going to the optician; 42% felt there was nothing wrong with their eyes, 9% were concerned about the cost of buying glasses, and 6% simply said they forgot to go and have a sight test[iv].

In addition, new research from The College of Optometrists has shown that there is a lack of awareness amongst carers of people in later life about conditions that can affect vision and quality of life in older age and the eye care services that are available. This research showed that almost a third (28%)[v] of people who care for someone in later life are not aware that people aged over 60 are entitled to a free NHS sight test. Half of those who care for an older person are also unaware that NHS sight tests can be performed at home if the person is unable to leave the house unaccompanied because of illness or disability[vi].

The research also showed that key eye conditions affecting vision as we get older could be going undetected due to lack of awareness. 36% of carers have never heard of Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness in the western world, and 7% are also unaware of glaucoma, another potentially blinding condition[vii].

Helena Herklots, Services Director at Age UK, said: 'We know that there is a link between reduced vision and falls and it's worrying that such a high number of older people have not had a sight test recently. Going for regular sight tests and wearing the right glasses will not only improve balance, co-ordination and mobility but will help to maintain general eye health. Sight tests are free and accessible and we would urge all those aged over 60 to have regular sight tests to check that their eyes are healthy or that their prescription is up to date.'

The College of Optometrists is backing Age UK's Falls Awareness Week. Dr Anna Kwartz said: 'Many of the visual problems that affect older people and lead to falls can be treated. Regular sight tests can help aid early detection and treatment. This can not only help to prevent falls but can also improve the person's quality of life and peace of mind significantly. It is also important that older people and those who care for them are aware of the symptoms of common eye diseases and conditions so that prompt diagnosis and treatment can be sought if necessary.'

Actress Sylvia Syms, OBE, who has recently suffered a fall herself, is supporting Age UK's Falls Awareness Week. Sylvia said: 'I experienced a fall in the street myself recently and I was lucky to be helped by some kind passers-by. I was bruised both physically and mentally and it's certainly taking me a while to recover. Falling over can really damage your confidence and limit your everyday life, and so through Age UK's Falls Awareness Week I am hoping to encourage more people to take simple steps to help prevent falls such as just making sure you go for a regular sight test.'

Age UK's Falls Awareness Week 2011 is promoting activities and projects that help to prevent falls in later life - from letting people know how important regular sight tests are and giving people's walking sticks an M.O.T., to finding out how to do strength and balance exercises at an organised session or from the comfort of their own home.

Age UK's Falls Awareness Week 2011 is part of Ageing Better Together - Age UK's new campaign aiming to help people live healthily and happily for longer. So this summer, older people and their family, friends and carers can come to Age UK for information and advice on staying steady, buying an Age UK personal alarm which offers peace of mind and additional help to live independently by connecting users to a dedicated response centre 24 hours a day, joining in a local exercise class to keep active and socialise, and much more. For more information call Age UK Advice on 0800 169 6565 or visit www.ageuk.org.uk/fallsweek.

- ENDS -

For any Falls Awareness Week media enquiries, please contact:
Sarah Scott at Age UK 020 3033 1434 or email sarah.scott@ageuk.org.uk

The College of Optometrists Press Office can be contacted at:
Edie Barton-Harvey/Sarika Patel/Zoe Belhomme at 3 Monkeys Communications 020 7009 3100 or email Collegeofoptometrists@3-monkeys.co.uk

Notes to Editors

General Statistics on falls:

  • Nearly 4 million people aged 60 and over have fallen in the last two years • Falls are the leading cause of death through injury for people over 75 in the UK
  • Falls represent half of total hospital admissions for accidental injury • Every older person who falls and has to go to hospital costs the country about £2,500
  • Half of those with hip fracture never regain their former level of function and one in five dies within three months
  • Nationally, hip fracture occurs in 60,000 people, costing the NHS approximately £1.7 billion a year. The incidence of hip fracture is projected to increase by 50 per cent by 2020.

Age UK

For media enquiries relating to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland please contact the appropriate national office: Age Scotland on 0131 668 8055, Age Cymru on 029 2043 1562 and Age NI on 028 9024 5729.

Age UK is the new force combining Age Concern and Help the Aged, dedicated to improving later life.

We provide free information, advice and support to over five million people; commercial products and services to over one million customers; and research and campaign on the issues that matter to people in later life. Our work focuses on five key areas: money matters, health and well being, home and care, work and training and leisure and lifestyle. We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI (together the Age UK Family), our local Age UK partners in England and local Age Concerns. We also work internationally for people in later life as a member of the DEC and with our sister charity Help Age International.

Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and company number 6825798). Age Concern England and Help the Aged (both registered charities), and their trading and other associated companies merged on the 1st April 2009. Together they have formed the Age UK Group ("we"). Charitable services are offered through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity's trading companies, which donate their net profits to Age UK (the Charity).

Age UK's personal alarm system:

Age UK's personal alarm system summons help, at the touch of a button. Over 40,000 people throughout the UK rely on the emergency alarm service. Users are not exclusively older people; some have a physical disability, or a chronic condition such as epilepsy or diabetes, some are recovering from illness, while others are more concerned for their security than their health. If you would like more information visit www.ageuk.org.uk/alarm or call 0800 77 22 66.

The College of Optometrists:

The College of Optometrists is the professional, scientific and examining body for optometry in the UK. The College works to ensure that the public is better informed about the role of the optometrist and the importance of eye health, facilitates research that contributes to the development of the existing body of knowledge and promotes the highest levels of professional responsibility, integrity and patient care. For more information about the College visit www.college-optometrists.orgopens link in new window

Research References:

The Falls Omnibus Survey by TNS Omnibus was compiled on behalf of Age UK and ran from 25 May-12 June 2011 to a contact sample of c.1745 adults aged 60+ across the UK. The data is weighted to be representative of the UK population. Estimated numbers of people: grossed figures, using mid-2009 Population Estimates for the UK, Office for National Statistics, August 2010.

The Britain's Eye Health in Focus report was compiled on behalf of The College of Optometrists by independent research consultancy FreshMinds amongst a nationally representative sample of 4,004 adults aged 18-60 living in the UK. Research was conducted online in May 2010.

[i] The Falls Omnibus Survey: 270,000 people in the UK aged 60+ who have fallen over in the last two years said poor vision was a part of the reason they fell.

[ii] Studies include:

Abdelhafiz, A.H. and Austin, C.A Visual factors should be assessed in older people presenting with falls or hip fracture Age and Ageing 2003 32(1), 26-30

Ivers RQ, Cumming RG, Mitchell P et al. Visual impairment and falls in older adults: the Blue Mountains Eye Study. J. Amer Ger. Soc. 1998 46(1): 58-64

Cummings SR. Treatable and untreatable risk factors for hip fracture. Bone 1996 18(3 suppl): 165S-167S

Jack DI, Smith T, Neoh C et al. Prevalence of low vision in elderly patients admitted to an acute geriatric unit in Liverpool: elderly people who fall are more likely to have low vision Gerontology 1995 41(5), 280-5

Patino CM, McKean-Cowdin R, Azen SP et al Central and peripheral visual impairment and the risk of falls and falls with injury Ophthalmology 2010 117(2) 199-206

Knudtson MD, Klein BE, Klein R Biomarker of aging and falling: the Beaver Dam eye study Arch Gerontol Geriatr 2009 49(1) 22-26

Kuang TM, Tsai SY, Hsu WM et al Visual impairment and falls in the elderly: the Shihpai Eye Study J Chin Med Assoc 2008 71(9) 467-72

Kulmala J, Era P, Parssinen O et al Lowered vision as a risk factor for injurious accidents in older people Aging Clin Exp Res 2008 20(1) 25-30

Lamoureux El, Chong E, Want JJ et al Visual impairment, causes of vision loss, and falls; the Singapore Malay eye study Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 2008 49(2) 528-33

de Boer MR, Pluijm SM, Lips P et al Different aspects of visual impairment as risk factors for falls and fractures in older men and women J Bone Miner Res 2004 19(9) 1539-47

Coleman AL, Stone K, Ewing SK et al Higher risk of multiple falls among elderly women who lose visual acuity Ophthalmology 2004 111(5) 857-62

[iii] The Falls Omnibus Survey: Nearly 2 million refers to 1.93 million who have not taken a sight test in the last two years.

[iv] The Falls Omnibus Survey: The question why haven't you had an eye test in the last two years was asked to all respondents who had not had an eye test in the last two years. [v] The Britain's Eye Health in Focus report

[vi] The Britain's Eye Health in Focus report

[vii] Freshminds conducted research on behalf of the College of Optometrists May 2010. A sample of 4,004 adults aged 18-60 living in the UK was recruited to an online survey

Last updated: Oct 06 2017

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