The Toronto Star, August 20, 2012
Doctors are carrying out eye surgery to prevent hip injury.
Seniors who had eye surgery to remove cataracts were less likely to have a hip fracture from a fall than those who did not, according to a Brown University study published earlier this month.
Seniors in their early 80s and those who were sickest benefited most from the improved sight provided by cataract surgery as they experienced almost 30 per cent fewer hip fractures. They are the ones at a higher risk of falling, says the study’s lead author Dr. Victoria Tseng, an ophthalmology resident.
She says most cataract surgery studies so far focused on sight only, without asking what happens afterwards with the regained sight.
“To me, it seemed kind of intuitive that if you can see well, you’re less likely to fall.”
Cataracts are a clouding of the eye lens that develops with age. Cataract surgery, a sort of parting of the clouds, allows seniors to see more clearly. Falls account for more than half of all injuries in Canadian seniors and for 85 per cent of their injury-related hospitalizations, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
The study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, examined results from over a million U.S. seniors using Medicare, all diagnosed with cataracts between 2002 and 2009.
They found that seniors who had the eye surgery had 16 per cent fewer hip fractures within a year of the surgery than those who did not have their cataracts removed. That figure jumped for those with more severe cataracts who had the surgery, as they were found to be 23 per cent less likely to suffer a hip fracture.
The Canadian Public Health Agency reports that 40 per cent of seniors’ falls result in hip fractures, more than three-quarters of which are in women. Hip fractures in seniors are serious — one in five seniors with a hip fracture will die within 12 months of the injuring fall, according to the Agency.
Seniors’ injuries cost them independence and quality of life, and it costs the health care system $2 billion annually, which is spent on direct health care costs.
Cataract surgery is multiple times cheaper than hip surgery, said Dr. Sherif El-Defrawy, chair of the department of ophthalmology at the University of Toronto and ophthalmologist-in-chief at the Kensington Eye Clinic.
The cost of each half-hour procedure only comes to a few hundred dollar, he said, adding that the bigger savings come from what good eye sight can prevent.
“If you are better able to cope, you don’t need social services as much.”
Cataract surgery can help seniors regain their independence and maintain their mobility, especially given they recover within a day, said El-Defrawy.
According to the U.S. study, improved vision can improve quality of life overall, such as preventing motor vehicle accidents and improving mental health in older people.