Visual impairment is an important contributing factor in falls among older adults, which is one of the leading causes of injury and injury-related death in this population. Visual impairment is also associated with greater disability among older adults, including poorer health-related quality of life, increased frailty and reduced postural stability. The majority of this evidence, however, is based on measures of central visual function, rather than peripheral visual function. As such, there is comparatively limited research on the associations between peripheral visual function, disability and falls, and even fewer studies involving older adults with specific diseases which affect peripheral visual function, the most common of which is glaucoma. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of irreversible vision loss among older adults, affecting around 3 per cent of adults aged over 60 years. The condition is characterised by retinal nerve fibre loss, primarily affecting peripheral visual function. Importantly, the number of older adults with glaucomatous visual impairment is projected to increase as the ageing population grows. The first component of the thesis examined the cross-sectional association between glaucomatous visual impairment and health-related quality of life (Study 1a), functional status (Study 1b) and postural stability (Study 1c) among older adults. A cohort of 74 community-dwelling adults with glaucoma (mean age 74.2 ± 5.9 years) was recruited and completed a baseline assessment. A number of visual function measures was assessed, including central visual function (visual acuity and contrast sensitivity), motion sensitivity, retinal nerve fibre analysis and monocular and binocular visual field measures (monocular 24-2 and binocular integrated visual fields (IVF): IVF-60 and IVF-120). The analyses focused on the associations between the outcomes measures and severity and location of visual field loss, as this is the primary visual function affected by glaucoma. In Study 1a, we examined the association between visual field loss and health-related quality of life, measured by the Short Form 36-item Health Survey (SF-36). Greater binocular visual field loss, on both IVF measures, was associated with lower SF-36 physical component scores, adjusted for age and gender (Pearson's r =|0.32| to |0.36|, p<0.001). Furthermore, inferior visual field loss was more strongly associated with the SF-36 physical component than superior field loss. No association was found between visual field loss and SF-36 mental component scores. The association between visual field loss and functional status was examined in Study 1b. Functional status outcomes measures included a physical activity questionnaire (Physical Activity Scale for the Elderly, PASE), performance tests (six-minute walk test, timed up and go test and lower leg strength) and an overall functional status score. Significant, but weak, correlations were found between binocular visual field loss and PASE and overall functional status scores, adjusted for age and gender (Pearson's r =|0.24| to |0.33|, p<0.05). Greater inferior visual field loss, independent of superior visual field loss, was significantly associated with poorer physical performance results and lower overall functional status scores. In Study 1c, we examined the association between visual field loss and postural stability, using a swaymeter device which recorded body movement during four conditions: eyes open and closed, on a firm and foam surface. Greater binocular visual field loss was associated with increased postural sway, both on firm and foam surfaces, independent of age and gender (Pearson’s r =|0.44| to |0.46|, p <0.001). Furthermore, inferior visual field was a stronger contributor to postural stability, more so than the superior visual field, particularly on the foam condition with the eyes open. Greater visual field loss was associated with a reduction in the visual contribution to postural sway, which underlies the observed association with postural sway. The second component of the thesis examined the association between severity and location of visual field loss and falls during a 12-month longitudinal follow-up. The number of falls was assessed prospectively using monthly fall calendars. Of the 71 participants who successfully completed the follow up (mean age 73.9 ± 5.7 years), 44% reported one or more falls, and around 20% reported two or more falls. After adjusting for age and gender, every 10 points missed on the IVF-120 increased the rate of falls by 25% (rate ratio 1.25, 95% confidence interval 1.08 - 1.44) or every 5dB reduction in IVF-60 increased the rate of falls by 47% (rate ratio 1.47, 95% confidence interval 1.16 - 1.87). Inferior visual field loss was a significant predictor of falls, more so than superior field loss, highlighting the importance of the inferior visual field area in safe and efficient navigation. Further analyses indicated that postural stability, more so than functional status, may be a potential mediating factor in the relationship between visual field loss and falls. Future research is required to confirm this causal pathway. In addition, the use of topical beta-blocker medications was not associated with an increased rate of falls in this cohort, compared with the use of other topical anti-glaucoma medications. In summary, greater binocular visual field loss among older adults with glaucoma was associated with poorer health-related quality of life in the physical domain, reduced functional status, greater postural instability and higher rates of falling. When the location of visual field loss was examined, inferior visual field loss was consistently more strongly associated with these outcomes than superior visual field loss. Insights gained from this research improve our understanding of the association between glaucomatous visual field loss and disability, and its link with falls among older adults. The clinical implications of this research include the need to include visual field screening in falls risk assessments among older adults and to raise awareness of these findings to eye care practitioners and adults with glaucoma. The findings also assist in developing further research to examine strategies to reduce disability and prevent falls among older adults with glaucoma to promote healthy ageing and independence for these individuals
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