Vision changes and hearing loss caused by the normal ageing process can increase your risk of falling. Having your vision and hearing checked regularly, and looking after your glasses or hearing aid so that they work well, can help to prevent a fall.
How your vision changes as you get older
You might notice your vision changing in the following ways:
- blurred vision or reduction in ability to see detail of objects (loss of visual acuity)
- reduced visual field, which is a reduction in what you can see when the eye is looking forward, and includes your peripheral vision
- less accuracy when you’re judging distances and depth – such as misjudging the height of a step or stairs
- reduction in your ability to see well in low contrast situations – such as distinguishing similar coloured fixtures and furnishing
- your eyes taking longer to adjust to changes in the lighting levels – such as when moving from a darkly lit to a brightly lit room
Don’t assume that if you can still read the newspaper or watch television that your eyesight is fine. This is not necessarily true. Changes can occur gradually over time, which you may not notice until there's a significant deterioration.
What can I do?
You can look after the health of your eyes, and help to prevent eye conditions from occurring, by:
If you need to take medication for eye health, make sure you take as prescribed and don’t stop without talking to your GP or optometrist.
Eye examination (eye test)
Having your eyes checked regularly can help to detect:
- age-related changes
- eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration
During your eye examination, you should let the optometrist know if you've:
- ever had a fall
- any family history of eye conditions like glaucoma
It’s very important to have your eyes checked, and your glasses prescription reviewed, regularly. Free eye examinations are available:
- once every 2 years if you're between 16 and 59 years old
- once a year if you're under 16, or aged 60 or over
You're also eligible for a free eye examination every year if you have:
- ocular hypertension or diabetes
- glaucoma, or you're aged 40 or over and your mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter has glaucoma
This is general guidance and your optometrist may recommend that you attend more frequently.
How much does it cost?
NHS eye tests are free to all UK residents in Scotland.
Eye checks and diabetes screening
If you're attending hospital for diabetic retinopathy screening, it's important to continue to attend your routine eye checks during this time.
Glasses fitted with bifocal or varifocal lenses can make things appear closer than they really are if you're looking through the wrong part of the lens. This can cause you to trip or lose your balance – particularly on stairs or going up or down kerbs or steps.
Bifocal lenses correct near and distance vision, but provide no correction in-between, whereas varifocal lenses correct near, distance and in-between vision. These types of lenses are prescribed for both near and farsighted people.
If you've had problems with bifocals or varifocals, or are considering using them, ask your optician for advice.
Remember to clean your glasses regularly, and to put them on if you get up in the night.
If you receive certain benefits or are on a low income, you may also be entitled to help with the cost of new glasses through the NHS Low Income Scheme
Dementia and sight loss
Dementia can affect the way we perceive and process information from our eyes. For example, height and depth can become difficult to judge, making stairs and stepping up kerbs and steps hazardous and causing difficulties when sitting on a chair or bed.
As dementia can also affect communication, sight loss can remain hidden if a person is unable to talk about their eye problems.
For more about dementia and sight loss, read the RNIB's advice on sight loss and dementia
To make the most of the useful vision you have as you become older, it’s important to maintain well, even, controllable lighting levels throughout your home to reduce the risk of falling.
Problems with hearing can affect the balance centre in your inner ear, and your awareness of hazards in your environment, making tripping and falling more likely. If you’ve noticed a change in your hearing, speak to your GP as soon as possible.
If you suffer from hearing loss, hearing aids are available free on the NHS and can help restore some, if not all, of your hearing.
Think you might have hearing loss? Take the Action for Hearing Loss hearing check to find out.
Where to start
Think about how you currently look after your vision and hearing:
- what positive things do you already do to look after your vision and hearing?
- what changes can you make that might help?
- how will you make these changes?
- who do you need to talk to?
Help and support
RNIB Scotland provides information and advice to people living with sight loss. If you need to speak to someone, phone their helpline on 0303 123 9999 (Monday to Friday 8.45 AM to 5.30 PM).
Action on Hearing Loss is the new name for the Royal National Institute for Deaf People providing information and support to people who are deaf or have hearing problems. If you need to speak to someone, phone their helpline on 0808 808 0123 (Monday to Friday 9.00 AM to 5.00 PM) or text phone 0808 808 9000.