Fall risk may rise after cataract surgery

An opthalmologist removes a cataract from an eye (Jay Directo, AFP/Getty Images)

One reason is that most studies, like the current one and the one in the U.S., have been observational. That means researchers look at medical records or self-reports from people who have undergone cataract surgery, or have not had it, and track their falls and injuries.

That approach has a number of limitations, though, and cannot prove whether cataract surgery, itself, affects the risk of falls and fractures.

Meuleners' team also lacked data on a number of factors that affect older people's fall risk - like their medication use, cognitive function and whether they had balance and mobility problems.

She said it's possible, for instance, that the surgery, or the sedatives used during the procedure, worsened certain health problems for some patients - especially the most elderly - noting that the post-surgery increase in fall risk was largely among patients age 80 and up.

All of those questions warrant further study, Meuleners said.

For now, she recommended that people having cataract surgery talk with their doctors.

"Elderly patients, in particular those 80 and up having ‘first eye' surgery, should discuss with their surgeon their visual aids requirements after surgery at the earliest possible time," Meuleners said.

She also suggested they discuss whether a sedative is necessary during surgery.

Then there is the question of when to have the second eye done, if needed.

"One would think that timely second eye surgery would be beneficial," Meuleners noted. "So careful consideration should be given to wanting (or needing) to postpone second eye surgery."

In the U.S., it's estimated that half of people who live to age 80 will develop cataracts or have cataract surgery. More than three million surgeries are done nationally every year, at a cost of $1,500 to $3,000 each.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/NK5jNn Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, online August 6, 2012.