July 31, 2012 -- Helping older people see more clearly may help to lower their risk for falls and potentially disabling hip fractures.
Falls and the resulting bone fractures are a major cause of disability and death among the elderly. Researchers say fall-related injuries cost the U.S. more than $10 billion in health care costs in 2000.
The results suggest cataract surgery may be a cost-effective way to reduce the risk of falls and hip fractures among older adults.
"Cataract surgery has already been demonstrated to be a cost-effective intervention for visual improvement," researcher Victoria Tseng, MD, of Brown University, and colleagues write in the Journal of the American Medical Association. "The results in this study suggest the need for further investigation of the additional potential benefit of cataract surgery as a cost-effective intervention to decrease the incidence of fractures in the elderly."
Researchers say vision impairment is a known risk factor for falls, especially among the elderly.
But few studies have looked at the effect of cataract surgery on the risk of falls and hip fractures among visually impaired older adults.
Cataract surgery corrects the condition by replacing the clouded lens with a clear artificial one.
In the study, researchers looked at the risk of hip fracture within one year, with or without cataract surgery, among more than 1 million people on Medicare aged 65 and older who were diagnosed with cataract between 2002 and 2009.
Of these, more than a third (36.9%) had cataract surgery during the study period.
Overall, 1.3% or 13,976 people had a hip fracture during the study.
Although this type of study cannot prove cause and effect, the association between the surgery and hip fracture was significant. Researchers found people who had cataract surgery had a 16% lower risk of hip fracture one year after the procedure.
"In patients with severe cataract, the association between cataract surgery and lower odds of hip fracture was even stronger, with a 23% reduction in the adjusted odds of hip fracture in the cataract surgery group compared with the cataract diagnosis group," the researchers write.