How Poor Vision and Peripheral Vascular Disease Affect Balance

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Having trouble getting around and being unable to socialize or manage household chores, such as shopping, can make life less enjoyable. What’s more, when you have difficulties getting around on your own, it can lead to long-term nursing care—and even death—for older adults.

One of the keys to maintaining good mobility is having good balance while you perform your daily tasks. Good balance depends on input from:

  • Your vision system
  • Your balance (vestibular) system
  • Your muscle system, including information on how your muscles interact with each other

Finally, your nerves, muscles, and bones must also work together to maintain your posture and movement.

Diseases that affect any of those systems may affect your balance. And if you have a problem with more than one system, it can magnify and worsen the effect on your balance. Experts know that poor vision is a risk factor for poor balance, especially when an older adult is doing complex balancing tasks like standing on one foot.

A team of researchers decided to learn whether poor vision would be more strongly related to standing balance in older adults who had peripheral vascular disease (a common circulation problem that affects the legs) or diabetes. They published their study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Aging and Vision Changes

Alice Pomidor & John Reynolds

Palmer MH high(8) res

Alice Pomidor, MD, MPH, AGSF
Professor
Florida State University School of Medicine

Mary Palmer, PhD, RN, FAAN, AGSF
Helen W. and Thomas L. Umphlet Distinguished Professor in Aging
UNC School of Nursing

In our previous blog post about eyesight, we discussed a number of vision problems that people may experience as they get older.  However, many people will experience age-related changes that are not eye diseases.  For example, you may begin to notice changes in your night vision—such as having trouble seeing stars on a clear night, or finding that it’s more difficult to navigate in a dark movie theater. Your eyes may also adjust more slowly to sudden changes in light. Glare and bright lights may trouble you, and that may make it harder to drive at night.

What’s more, working on the computer, reading printed material, or doing close-up projects like sewing, knitting, or woodworking may become more difficult as you age. Often, you can correct these problems easily by using brighter lighting or getting reading glasses.

Vision changes can lower your quality of life and increase your risk for having household accidents, or even car crashes. That’s why getting a yearly check-up with an eye specialist is important.  (See our previous blog post for a handy guide to eye specialists.)

Here are some tips on how to keep vision as sharp as possible for as long as possible:

  • Schedule yearly visits with an eye specialist.
  • Regularly check all medications for any side effects they may have on your vision. Common vision-related side effects include dry and irritated eyes. Antihistamines, allergy medications, antidepressants, tranquilizers, and some high blood pressure medications can cause dry eye.
  • Make sure that items on your floor (such as electrical cords, throw rugs, and knick-knacks) are removed or rearranged so that they are out of the way and you don’t trip over them. Also watch out for pets who can have a way of getting under your feet!
  • Brighten your home and make objects more visible. Here’s how:
    • Use adjustable desk, floor or table lamps close to your working area to shed more light when you’re reading or doing close work.
    • Avoid clear glass light fixtures to reduce glare.
    • Minimize window glare with opaque blinds, curtains or shades.
    • High-quality fluorescent light bulbs make it easier to see colors than conventional incandescent bulbs. What’s more, fluorescent bulbs spread light over large areas without glare, use less energy, and last 10 to 20 times longer than incandescent bulbs.

Just a few steps can make a big difference.  Check out our online resource on vision problems for even more suggestions!

Drs. Pomidor and Palmer are the Chair and Vice Chair, respectively, of the American Geriatrics Society’s Public Education Committee.

Aging and Vision Problems

Alice Pomidor & John Reynolds

Palmer MH high(8) res

Alice Pomidor, MD, MPH, AGSF
Professor
Florida State University School of Medicine

Mary Palmer, PhD, RN, FAAN, AGSF
Helen W. and Thomas L. Umphlet Distinguished Professor in Aging
UNC School of Nursing

Your eyes are your windows on the world, so it’s wise to protect your vision, especially as you age. Although not all older adults will experience vision problems, many people will experience age-related changes. While many vision problems are easy to correct with prescription lenses or brighter lighting, other problems require medical treatment. These include:

Cataracts. This age-related vision problem occurs when the lens in one or both of your eyes becomes cloudy. By age 80, more than half of all Americans will either have a cataract or will have had surgery to correct a cataract. Symptoms include dullness, blurriness, or a brownish tint to your vision. As cataracts gradually get worse, vision problems become more noticeable. Although complete healing takes about a month, cataract surgery can immediately and dramatically improve your vision. During the procedure, the surgeon will implant a clear, plastic lens—like a permanent contact lens. Cataract surgery is safe and effective for most people, no matter what their age, health, or mental status. Medicare and most insurance plans cover the costs of the procedure.

Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). The macula is a very small structure within the eye that helps you see fine details. When it begins to degenerate (fail), your central (straight ahead) vision can become distorted. People with ARMD will keep their peripheral (side) vision, and training can help them make the most of their lowered ability to see. There are a number of aids that can help people with ARMD, including magnifying lenses, large print items, speech software for computers, and computer and video enlargement systems. Continue reading