It’s estimated that 29 million seniors fall every year, resulting in 7 million injuries, 2.8 million emergency department visits, 800,000 hospitalizations and 27,000 deaths.
Several factors are linked with fall risk, including balance and cognitive impairment. Anecdotally, it is known that visual problems play a part too, yet there is much to learn about the interplay between vision and the physical and cognitive issues that place older adults at greater risk of falling.
A new study led by David Musch, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Sayoko Moroi, M.D., Ph.D., attempts to narrow this knowledge gap. Dr. Musch is a professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at Kellogg and of epidemiology in the U-M School of Public Health. Dr. Moroi is a recent Kellogg active emeritus professor and the new chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“We hypothesize that specific vision measures, such as acuity and contrast sensitivity, are associated with physical function, balance, cognition and, ultimately, falls,” says Dr. Musch. “We hope our analysis will provide a more detailed map of how all of those age-related risk factors interact.”
Their approach combines data from an ongoing national longitudinal study (the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation or SWAN) with information gathered from performing comprehensive vision examinations on 255 Michigan SWAN participants. The project is supported by an NIH Research Grant for Secondary Analysis (R21), which provides support for studies that use existing database resources.
“Avoiding injury and maintaining independence become major health priorities as we age,” says Dr. Musch. “We want to help doctors recognize which factors are contributing to their older patients’ cognitive troubles and falls—including vision problems that may be preventable or treatable. The goal is to give doctors and patients an additional edge in supporting healthy aging.”