Poor Vision Could Equal Poor Balance and Risk of Falls

*Sm Poor BalanceYour vision problems may be directly related to balance issues. According to recent research published in JAMA Ophthalmology, individuals with visual impairment or refractive errors (near or far-sightedness) are more likely to lose their balance in a standard test.

Pradeep Ramulu, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a group of colleagues analyzed the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys for 2001-2002 and 2003-2004. In the surveys, participants took part in visual acuity testing, objective balance testing and assessment of peripheral neuropathy. There were 4,590 participants who had complete data on vision, balance and peripheral neuropathy.  These participants were 40 years of age or older, and were made up of 4,201people with normal vision, 248 people with an uncorrected refractive error and 141 people with visual impairment.

To assess balance, participants stood with their feet together on a firm or soft foam surface with eyes open or eyes closed. There were four tests: eyes open and then closed, on a firm surface and then on the soft foam surface. The eyes-closed test on the foam surface minimized proprioceptive inputs to help Ramulu’s team to examine vestibular balance. Patients were also asked whether they experienced any falls in the past year.

The results showed that there were higher rates of balance loss on the soft foam surface with eyes closed. Ramulu and his colleagues were surprised at this finding. They thought that closing the eyes would neutralize the effect of poor vision on balance. A possible reason for closed eyes causing imbalance could be that reduced input from the eyes weakens the vestibule-ocular reflex which helps maintain balance. Conversely, common degenerative pathways and decreased physical activity levels could negatively impact balance, especially among the visually impaired (Source: Medpage Today).


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