Falls risk assessment in elderly, community-dwelling women with age-related macular degeneration

About 30 percent of elderly people fall once or more a year, resulting in injury, disability, loss of independence and enormous cost to the health care system. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a degenerative disease of the retina, is the leading cause of legal blindness in Canada and the developed world. The most severe form of AMD affects one in 20 elderly people and is associated with a complete loss of central vision. However, data on fall risk among elderly people with AMD is extremely limited. Shelagh Szabo is conducting the first study to assess whether people with AMD are at higher risk of falling than other elderly individuals because of visual impairment. As people with AMD score poorly on visual measures that predict falls in other individuals, it seems likely that those with AMD may have a higher incidence of falls than those with normal vision. Conversely, as most AMD patients have reduced levels of physical activity due to their poor vision, they may actually fall less than healthy people. If the research confirms that people with AMD are frequent fallers, prevention programs could be targeted for the visually impaired to reduce falls and injury, as well as fall-related costs to the health system.