Bifocals may cause falls - but switching to single lens glasses for active outdoor use is an effective solution

Bifocals may cause falls - but switching to single lens glasses for active outdoor use is an effective solution

To correct visual impairment that comes with age, many people use a single pair of multifocal glasses for daily tasks of driving, reading, and cooking. This common practice might put people at greatly increased risk of falls! Wearing multifocal glasses increases the risk of trip incidents and falls in older people. Wearers of bifocal glasses have a high risk of falls outdoor and when walking up or down stairs.

A recent  study, in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) [http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2010/05/26/bifocals-falls-elderly.html#socialcomments on May 25, 2010], examined if the provision of single lens distance glasses to older wearers of multifocal glasses, with counseling about optimal use when taking part in hazardous activities, could reduce rates of falling.  CHHM collaborator and fall prevention expert Dr. Stephen Lord says that the blurred field of vision of the multifocal glasses have shown to impair balance and increase the risk of falls.  The fall prevention strategy used in this study was to supplement the use of multifocal glasses with an additional pair of single lens distance glasses for wearing when in outdoor and unfamiliar settings.

Professor Lord’s team found that single lens distance glasses were associated with 40% fewer falls to wearers aged around 80 years old, with regular outside activities two or three times weekly.  More active seniors may benefit from changing multifocal glasses to single focus glasses for walking and standing activities.

“This is a classic example of research with immediate impact – the sort of solutions that CHHM researchers strive for”, said CHHM and UBC professor Karim Khan. “Dr. Lord as been a terrific influence on CHHM researchers who work on vision, as well as our entire falls preventions team. People need to be extra-careful with bifocals and in this case a common-sense solution – separate outdoor glasses – has proven successful.”