Preventing Falls in the Elderly

“Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” That line is a well-known quote, but also a harsh reality.

As people age they become more at risk for a dangerous fall.

Luckily, there are ways to help avoid falls through improving your vision, according to Dr. Rick Graebe, a behavioral optometrist in Versailles.

Three systems contribute to a person’s balance: the vestibular, which relies on the fluid-filled canal in the inner ear; proprioception, or body awareness; and vision.

With age, it is natural for the vestibular system to weaken. Children can do somersaults all day, but an adult will do one and feel dizzy. Adults simply cannot take that kind of vestibular stimulation.

Body awareness and strength often weaken because many of us lead sedentary lifestyles.

Lack of exercise means a lack of core strength, which affects balance.

Without a strong core, if you start to tip over, you lack the strength to right yourself.

Because we can’t count on the vestibular or proprioception systems as we age, Dr. Graebe recommends Vision

Therapy to strengthen the one system we can keep improving.

The visual system doesn’t wear out unless you have cataracts or macular degeneration.

Parvocellular, focal vision, or your “eye chart vision,” is used to read, watch TV and see details. This type of vision can be maintained throughout your entire life.

Magnocellular vision tells you where you are in space in relation to other things.

As one undergoes the stress of aging (aches and pains), there’s a tendency to concentrate on focal vision only, neglecting your magnocellular vision, contributing to falls.

But patients can use Vision Therapy to increase that spatial awareness.

“It tells specifically where things are so you can step over them and not trip over them,” Graebe said.

The therapy uses balance tests and prism glasses to help create a more precise map of the world.

Patients then are more aware of their periphery and fall hazards.

It can even make you a better driver.

Many of Graebe’s patients end up telling him, “I wish I had known this five years ago.”

People believe falls and weak balance are just an inevitable part of getting older. But Dr. Graebe knows things can get better.

“You can’t escape Father Time,” he said. “But there is always something you can do.”

Dr. Rick Graebe, Family Eyecare Associates & Children’s Vision and Learning Center; 105 Crossfield Drive, Versailles; • 859-879-3665