​9 Ways to Prevent Falls When You Have Low Vision

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Here’s a sobering statistic: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 4 adults age 65 or older will take a fall at least once a year. One out of 5 of those wipeouts will cause serious injury or worse: Impaired vision more than doubles the risk you’ll take a tumble.

“Balance is controlled mostly by vision,” explains Pamela Beach, professor of motor behavior and codirector of the Institute of Movement Studies for Individuals with Visual Impairments at SUNY Brockport. “Seventy percent of the sensory receptors in our bodies are located in our eyes. When you lose vision, you’re losing much of that critical information, which makes it more likely that you’re going to lose your balance.”

Check out these strategies for staying on your feet, which are particularly useful if your vision is poor.

1. Give your rooms the once-over

“On slippery floors, use rugs with nonslip padding under them,” suggests Natalie Baker, president of the Gerontological Advanced Practice Nursing Association. Clear trip hazards, such as power cords and clutter. Install handrails along stairways or steps going to your house, the garage, basement or second floor. Place contrasting anti-slip tape to the edge of steps so they stand out, and use contrast to distinguish items, like a dark bath mat with rubber backing on a light floor (see this resource for more home-safety ideas).

An occupational therapist or certified aging-in-place specialist (CAPS) can suggest modifications to make your home safer, says Baker. Contact the National Association of Home Builders (800-368-5242) or go to its website, nahb.org, and look under Find a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist. AARP also has a checklist of safety improvements you can make to prevent falls in your home

2. Light the way

Illuminate pathways inside and outside your house. “Use night-lights or sensor-motion lights for navigating in the dark,” says Baker, particularly in hallways and in the bathroom. Add toe-kick lights around kitchen islands or cabinets, and motion-sensor night lighting to illuminate a path inside or outside your home. Put lights on timers so they automatically come on at dusk. Invest in smart technology, like Alexa or Google Home, to set up voice-activated assistance that allows you to use your voice to turn on a light when entering a dark room. Install overhead lighting to eliminate shadows in rooms, and open curtains or blinds during the day to let in natural light.

3. Consider your eyeglasses

Have your vision checked regularly to make sure your prescription is up to date. And though your bifocals and progressive lenses — with different areas of correction for near and distance vision — may be fine for reading, wearing them constantly can increase your risk of falling. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that single-lens distance glasses were associated with 40 percent fewer falls outdoors in highly active wearers near 80 years of age, compared with multifocal glasses. So it can’t hurt to keep a spare pair of single-vision distance glasses on hand for when you go out.

Also be careful when you get new glasses with a big change in prescription; While you’re adjusting to the difference, your balance can be thrown off-kilter by causing objects to appear closer or farther than they are, according to a 2014 study published in the journal Optometry and Vision Science.


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