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Meet the expert: Dr Liz Hill on vision and falls

Meet the expert: Dr Liz Hill on vision and falls
We’re joined by Liz Hill today, who’s our expert on falls and vision. Liz, it seems obvious that being able to see an obstacle on the ground will help prevent falls. But tell us, why are vision and falls so important? Being able to prevent falls is not just about seeing objects, but it’s about perceiving everything around us, appreciating the whole environment. And as we get older, our ability to judge how far things away are, and how well we see things if the lighting’s not as good all changes. So it’s very important that we consider vision when we’re thinking about falls. OK.
So if someone is thinking about their own vision, if they feel that there might be something wrong, and they’re going to see their optician or optometrist, would you recommend that they tell their optician that they’ve had falls? Definitely. It’s worth mentioning to their optician that they’re having falls. There are things that their optician may look for more closely. Or there are recommendations the optician might want to make, which are specific to someone who’s more likely to be falling. OK. What kind of things might the optician look for if it’s not just about being able to read a book or see something in the distance?
The optician will then, obviously, look at the eyes, which they would do everybody, but they’re going to think more about risk factors that we might be able to modify and particular advice for that patient in terms of lighting and spectacle choice. And so it’s important, as an optician - there have been recent campaigns by the College of Optometrists, who recommended that optometrists really acutely think about fallers and the recommendations that they make for them. OK. So you mentioned a couple of things that an optician or optometrist might think about in someone who’s fallen. You mentioned lighting and spectacles. So how can people help themselves with those two things in falls prevention? We’ve mentioned, obviously, opticians.
It’s important that people go and see their optician. Everybody over the age of 60 is entitled to an NHS eye test. And the number of people in the UK that actually take that up is low. The other thing is if people aren’t fit enough to get to the optician themself, they can have what they call a domiciliary eye test, which means the optician will visit them at home and will bring spectacles to them and do a full eye test in their own home. And they just need to contact an optician to arrange that.
In terms of lighting, you need to have good lighting, particularly in things like stairwells or areas where there are potential hazards that a patient might come across. In terms of spectacles, multifocal glasses, which are things like varifocals and bifocals, are very convenient for people to wear. But when you’re outside, people have to be very careful that they don’t trip or misjudge their footing when they’re walking. So sometimes opticians recommend a separate pair for outdoors use just to try and reduce the risk of falls. Right. So we’ve heard some practical tips about what people can do to try and prevent some falls there. Are there any general tips about how people can look after their eyes and their vision? Yes.
Apart from seeing the optician, it’s obviously important that people make appropriate lifestyle choices as well to look after their eyes. We know that smoking is particularly bad for the health of the eyes. So we’d always recommend that somebody thinks about stopping smoking. It’s important we have a healthy diet, so lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Things that are brightly coloured are particularly good for the eyes. And it’s important to avoid too much sun exposure. So when people are outside or gardening and things, they should always be wearing sunglasses or a wide brimmed hat to protect their eyes. And then finally, it’s important that we check each eye separately. We spend a lot of time with both eyes open.
And we wouldn’t necessarily know if something was happening with one eye in particular. So I would recommend that on a regular basis that people cover each eye separately and just compare the vision, maybe looking out from the front window or similar. I mean, is that just by placing a hand over each eye? Yes, absolutely. just getting used to what they should be able to see. And then they would be aware of any acute changes and be able to act on that. OK. Some nice tips there on how to keep our eyes healthy. Thank you very much, Liz. Thank you. And thanks for watching.
In this ‘meet the expert’ video James asks our expert, Dr Liz Hill, how vision and falls are linked and what people can do to keep their eyes healthy. Liz used to work as an optometrist (or optician) but now works as an eye specialist in hospital where she has performed some research on vision and falls.
During the video we will learn some tips about how we can keep our eyes healthy, which in turn will help maintain our gait and balance, thereby preventing falls. See if there are any tips that you can use yourself to keep your vision healthy.
If you would like to see how falls hazards appear to people with different eye conditions, please visit the article below in the New York Times (in the ‘See also’ section below). Within the article are some really useful videos illustrating how some people see common falls hazards.
In the ‘See also’ section below we have added “The importance of vision in preventing falls”. This document is by the Prevention of Falls Network Europe (ProFaNE) and has some interesting facts and useful advice. You will also see a link in this section to our blog post on Vari-focal and bi-focal glasses.
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