Seniors and falls

Routine vision screening can help minimize falls among older adults

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Falls are the leading cause of injuries for older Americans, and many of them result in permanent disability and fatalities. In addition to threatening the health and independence of seniors, falls also generate significant economic costs.

One in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year. Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal, trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults. They result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths.

However, falling is not an inevitable result of aging. Through lifestyle adjustments, careful medication management and periodic health screenings, including for visual acuity, the number of falls among seniors can be reduced significantly.

The connection between poor vision and falls

By the age of 65, one in every three individuals has some form of vision-reducing eye disease.  Having impaired vision more than doubles the risk of falls for older adults. Many different kinds of vision problems can contribute to falls. They include refractive errors that cause nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. Other conditions that develop as we age are cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, poor depth perception, loss of peripheral vision, slower adjustment to lighting changes, and diabetic retinopathy.

In addition, as many as 30 chronic health conditions that plague older Americans – including diabetes, heart disease and stroke —  can be detected and treated early with routine eye exams.  Many of these conditions contribute directly or indirectly to falls by worsening eyesight and/or increasing frailty. Therefore, improving older adults’ access to vision care is an easy and cost-effective solution to protect vision and overall health, minimize human suffering and mitigate the financial impact of falls among the elderly.

The American Optometric Association recommends annual eye examinations over the age of 60. Eyeglass prescriptions should be updated annually, if needed. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that seniors with bifocal or progressive lenses consider getting a pair of glasses with only a distance prescription for outdoor activities, such as walking. This is because bifocals and progressives can sometimes make things seem closer or farther away than they really are.  And timely intervention for cataracts and glaucoma can preserve vision and, therefore, reduce the likelihood of falls.

The financial impact of falls

Falls among adults age 65 and older are very costly for health plans, their members and families. Each year about $50 billion is spent on non-fatal fall injuries and $754 million is spent on fatal falls. For non-fatal falls:

  • $29 billion is paid by Medicare
  • $12 billion is paid by private or out-of-pocket payers
  • $9 billion is paid by Medicaid

The financial toll for older adult falls is expected to increase as the population ages and may reach $67.7 billion by 2020.  

Vision care solutions can help reduce falls

Through our lens formulary, Versant Health is able to offer members a comprehensive selection of lens options that includes a wide array of lens functionality. These include digital progressives to facilitate viewing at multiple distances; anti-reflective coatings to reduce glare; and blue light protection – all at affordable prices. Our lens formulary provides options that specifically address many eyesight problems that contribute to falls among the elderly, including poor depth perception, loss of peripheral vision, poor vision in low light, and damage from blue light and ultraviolet light.

For example, Transitions® Signature lenses reduce exposure to harmful blue light, which can accelerate aging of the retina and thereby contribute to age-related macular degeneration. These lenses also block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. Polycarbonate/shatterproof lenses are a good option for individuals who have been identified at high risk for falls.

In addition to lens enhancements, comprehensive managed vision care can help mitigate the impact that some chronic diseases, like diabetes, have on vision. Versant Health’s managed vision care services cover everything from outreach and preventative measures to routine care and cost management. When patients are diagnosed with an eye disease, we ensure they continue to engage with the correct services when and where they need them.

For more information about how routine vision screening can help mitigate the human and financial impact of falls among older adults, download our white paper here.

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