Glaucoma patients at significantly higher risk for falls, motor vehicle accidents

Persons affected by glaucoma are over three times more likely to have been involved in falls and motor vehicle accidents than persons of the same age without the condition, say researchers from Dalhousie University in Canada. Their findings are published in the March 2007 issue of Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.

The study involved 48 patients 50 years of age or older with glaucoma and 47 age-matched persons without the eye disease. Glaucoma patients were almost three times as likely to have experienced one or more falls in the previous year and over six times as likely to have been involved in one or more motor vehicle accidents in the previous five years. They were also more likely to have been at-fault for motor vehicle accidents in which they were involved. The strongest risk factor for these motor vehicle accidents was impaired useful field of view.

This research shows higher levels of falls and motor vehicle accidents than found in previous studies. These results have a potential useful application in patient education, licensing of drivers, and intervention programs.

“Based on these results, the research group has started a larger prospective study to better understand why patients with glaucoma may be more likely to have falls and motor vehicle accidents,” said researcher Sharon A. Haymes, PhD, of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at Dalhousie University. “We need to find ways to help them minimize their risk.”

Glaucoma is a group of diseases of the optic nerve involving loss of retinal ganglion cells in a characteristic pattern of optic neuropathy. If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to permanent damage of the optic nerve and resultant visual field loss, which can progress to blindness. It is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide and affects 1 in 200 people aged 50 and younger and 1 in 10 over the age of 80.

There are currently no known ways to prevent glaucoma. However, studies show that early detection and treatment of the disease, before it causes major vision loss, is the best way to control the disease. The National Eye Institute recommends that persons who are at high risk for the disease (African-Americans over 40; persons over 60; and people with a family history of glaucoma) have their eyes examined and pupils dilated every two years by an eye care professional.

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