Clinicians who work in the skilled nursing facility setting are accustomed to caring for residents who suffer from chronic and often life-threatening medical conditions. Each day, you monitor your residents’ vitals, make sure they are taking critical medications and keep an eye on any new developments in an effort to maintain their health and improve their quality of life.
When so much of your time is focused on managing serious illnesses, it may surprise you to know that a common, painless condition may pose a major risk to your residents’ health and safety – a condition that can easily go unnoticed for months or even years.
Cataracts, which cause the lens of the eye to become cloudy over time1, are the leading cause of blindness among older adults.2 In fact, more than half of all Americans will have cataracts by the age of 753. While they are generally painless and do not directly affect your residents’ health, they can still have serious consequences – studies have shown a correlation between vision impairments and an increase in falls among older adults.4
Prevent Blindness America, a non-profit organization that promotes better eye health and provides education on how to protect your vision, has declared June as Cataract Awareness Month. So, let’s take this opportunity to learn more about cataracts, how they can negatively affect your residents’ quality of life, and how they can be treated so your residents can stay safe and live independently for as long as possible.
Cataract Symptoms and Diagnosis
Those who suffer from cataracts typically begin to experience vision impairments as the condition progresses. Symptoms include:
- Blurry vision
- Double vision
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Increased sensitivity to bright lights or glare
- Seeing colors as being muted or faded
- No improvement in impaired vision, even with repeated changes to eyeglass prescription5
The best way to determine whether a resident is developing cataracts in one or both eyes is through a comprehensive eye exam. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that patients age 65 and older receive a comprehensive eye exam from a trained optometrist or ophthalmologist every one to two years6.
Vision Impairment and Risk of Falls
While cataracts are generally painless and do not present with outward symptoms like redness or swelling, they can still pose a risk to your residents’ health and safety.
In adults over the age of 65, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries7; 20% of falls result in broken bones or head injuries, and 3 million older adults end up in the emergency department due to a fall on an annual basis8. Each year, more than 25% of older adults will fall, and falling once makes it twice as likely that a resident will fall again in the future9.
Impaired vision is a risk factor for falls in the older adult population10. Studies have shown that impairments affecting older adults’ visual acuity – like cataracts – can be associated with multiple falls11. Skilled nursing facility residents have been shown to fall more frequently than their peers who do not live in long-term care12. That’s why providing regular comprehensive eye exams to your residents can help you protect their health and safety by identifying eye health issues that cause dangerous vision impairments.
As with many medical conditions, early detection increases the likelihood that cataract treatment will be successful13.
At first, cataracts may be successfully managed by using stronger prescription glasses, magnifying lenses, or sunglasses that protect the eyes from glare and UV rays14. If the condition is more advanced or affects your resident’s ability to complete daily tasks, his or her eye doctor may recommend cataract surgery. An ophthalmologist will remove the affected lens during this brief outpatient surgery and replace it with an artificial lens.
The procedure is incredibly common and safe. More than three million Americans have cataract surgery each year15, and it is the most common surgical procedure covered by Medicare16. Complications occur in less than 1% of all cases, and the surgery has been shown to improve the underlying vision impairment in 97% of cases17.
With the help of regular exams, diagnosis by skilled eye health specialists, and treatment options that are both safe and effective, you can help protect your residents’ health and safety and help them remain independent for years to come.