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Wear Bifocals? They Might Increase Your Fall Risk

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
3 minute readLast updated April 21, 2023

Did you know that seniors who wear their bifocals when walking outdoors raise their risk of falling? Researchers also recommend that older folks not wear bifocal glasses on stairs for the same reason. The link between bifocal lenses and an increased risk of elder falls may be news to many of us, and it’s not the only way vision correction tools can trip up older users. Here’s what geriatricians and researchers recommend for seeing clearly and staying upright.

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Use the right glasses for your activity

More than one study has found that bifocal wearers over age 65 are more likely to fall when wearing their bifocals on walks, during outdoor activities, and when going up and down stairs. The glasses-related fall risk appears to be highest when wearers are doing things outside at least a couple of times a week, according to an Australian study published in the British Medical Journal. Study participants of similar age who switched to single-vision glasses for these activities were slightly less likely to fall overall — and were 40% less likely to have a fall than the outdoorsy group that wore bifocals.
Eye doctors say this is because bifocals, which are handy for close-up and middle-distance activities like reading and watching screens, make it hard to see clearly near wearers’ feet when they’re up and moving around. That puts bifocals wearers on the go at greater risk for missing steps and curbs and for tripping over unexpected objects.
Bifocals aren’t the only lenses that can create mobility challenges for wearers. A study presented at the 2014 American Academy of Optometry meeting found the larger a senior patient’s change in prescription, the more likely the patient was to fall with the new lenses. The presenter, Dr. Susan Leat, recommended talking with patients about safe movement with their new lenses and possibly implementing big changes in lenses in stages to allow wearers time to adjust safely.

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Discuss options with your eye doctor

Let your eye doctor know if you’ve had any falls since your last visit and if you’ve been feeling off-balance or clumsy when you’re walking around. Ask your doctor about single-vision glasses for you to use on walks and during outdoor activities. Whether or not you use bifocals or progressive lenses, ask if your doctor has any other recommendations for preventing falls related to vision changes or faulty depth perception.

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Doctors have a few recommendations for making sure your eyewear works for you, not against you.
  • Get a pair of single-vision distance lenses for walking around and climbing stairs — and put them on before you start moving. (Participants in one study were more likely to fall when they were changing glasses while walking.)
  • Take extra care moving around when you’re getting used to lenses with a new prescription, whether they’re bifocals or not. Changes in your new glasses, while better for your vision, can translate into changes in depth perception that might cause you to clip table edges or misjudge doorways.
  • See your eye doctor for an exam whenever you notice changes in your vision, especially your depth perception.
  • Keep your glasses clean — smudged or dusty glasses can impair your vision no matter what kind of lenses you wear.
Bifocals and other corrective lenses are great tools for better vision. Use them for the right activities and they can help keep you from falling, too.


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OurParents Staff

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