Association between vision impairment and increased prevalence of falls in older US adults

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2024 May;72(5):1373-1383. doi: 10.1111/jgs.18879. Epub 2024 Mar 21.


Background: Vision impairment (VI) is associated with falls in older adults. However, past studies have relied on geographically constrained samples with limited generalizability or self-reports of visual difficulty. To date, there have not been nationally representative studies on the association of objective measures of visual function and falls outcomes.

Methods: We used cross-sectional data from Round 11 of National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS), a nationally representative panel study of age-eligible Medicare beneficiaries (N = 2951). We performed Poisson regression to calculate the prevalence and prevalence ratio (PR) of >1 fall in the past year, any fall in the past month, fear of falling (FoF), and activity limitation due to FoF as a function of distance visual acuity, near visual acuity, and contrast sensitivity. Models were adjusted for demographic and health covariates and were weighted to make nationally representative parameter estimates.

Results: The weighted proportion of participants with VI was 27.6% (95% CI, 25.4%-29.9%). Individuals with any VI had a higher prevalence of falls compared with those without VI (18.5% vs. 14.1%, PR = 1.25, 95% CI 1.02-1.53). Specifically, contrast sensitivity impairment was associated with a higher prevalence of recurrent falls (20.8% vs. 14.7%; PR = 1.30, 95% CI 1.01-1.67) and recent falls (17.1% vs. 9.9%; PR = 1.40, 95% CI 1.01-1.94). This relationship existed even independent of near and distance visual acuity. Distance and near visual acuity were not significantly associated with falls. Having any VI was also associated with a higher prevalence of FoF (38.4% vs. 30.5%, PR = 1.17, 95% CI 1.02-1.34).

Conclusion: The prevalence of falls is associated with poor contrast sensitivity but not with near or distance visual acuity. Findings suggest greater collaboration between geriatricians and eye care providers may be warranted to assess and address fall risk in older adults with VI.

Keywords: NHATS; contrast sensitivity; falls; fear of falling; vision impairment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls* / statistics & numerical data
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicare / statistics & numerical data
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Vision Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Visual Acuity*