Multifocals may increase risk of falling

Older people may increase their risk of falling if they wear multifocal glasses when walking in unfamiliar environments, particularly outside the home, a new study has found.

“Many older people report that they have trouble judging the height of the kerb when wearing multifocal glasses outdoors,” said Dr Jasmine Menant, a researcher in the Falls and Balance Group at NeuRA. “Some report that it might be a reason why they fall.”

Dr Menant’s research has attempted to shed some light on this problem by investigating how multifocal glasses (bifocal and progressive lenses) as opposed to single lens glasses affected the ability of older adults to negotiate an obstacle course while their attention was distracted.

In the study, a group of 30 older people performed walking trials during which they were required to avoid contacting ground floor obstacles while reading letters on a computer screen positioned in front of them at eye level.

“This walking task was designed to simulate a distracting every-day environment where older people might have to walk on a rough footpath while trying to read a sign or a bus number,” said Dr Menant.

Obstacle contacts, reading errors, plus the movement and position of the participants’ eyes and the head were recorded during the trials.

Dr Menant’s results revealed that participants contacted more obstacles when wearing their multifocal glasses compared to their single lens glasses.

“This was likely due to participants not bending their head down enough and thus viewing the ground obstacles through the blurred reading segment of their multifocal glasses,” she said.

This study is due to be published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society later this year.