Poor eyesight can contribute to life-threatening falls for elderly cataract patients.

A proud grandmother of 11 girls and one boy, Margaret Yearsley has just celebrated her 85th birthday.

“I love all my girls. And I tell everyone about my grandson, Nathan, that he’s a Blue Angel,” Margaret says with great happiness.

Shortly after moving in with her daughter Wendy, a registered nurse, Margaret fell. Wendy was certain of the cause.

“She’s been developing cataracts. I was worried that she fell because she couldn’t see well,” says Wendy. “She’d always worn glasses, but the cataracts made it increasingly difficult to navigate effectively.”

According to the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, 35% of individuals over age 65 fall at least once a year, and the number rises to 50% by age 80. Women fall more often than men do and 50% of individuals who suffer a fall will do so more than once. Falls are the number one reason for nursing home admissions. Even more disturbing, 50% of individuals over age 75 who fall will not survive for another year.

“We feel so very lucky to have found Dr. Fridman,” says Wendy. “She was so wonderful with my mom.”

Gretta Fridman, MD, is a board-certified, fellowship-trained ophthalmologist and founder of New Tampa Eye Institute.

What defines a cataract?

“Simply put, cataracts are a gradual discoloration or clouding of the eye’s natural lens,” explains Dr. Fridman. “For some, cataracts will never develop to the point where they interfere with vision. But for others, heredity, illness, injury or the taking of certain medications can, at any age, speed the development of cataracts.”

When cataracts are developing, patients describe a variety of symptoms, including glare from oncoming headlights, a loss in the vibrancy of colors, or the need for frequent changes in eyeglass prescription as it becomes increasingly difficult to read, especially in low-light situations.

“Margaret’s cataracts had progressed to the point where she was using not only prescription glasses, but also a magnifying glass to read. And too, she was unable to see well enough to walk safely,” recalls Dr. Fridman.

“Wendy wanted her mother’s vision improved so she could walk more confidently and be somewhat glasses independent. So we decided on a best lens for her,” explains the doctor, “one to provide good vision at any particular distance.”

Dr. Fridman explains the process that Margaret and every new patient experiences when they come to New Tampa Eye Institute. “Before scheduling cataract surgery, I perform a thorough ophthalmic examination to identify any ocular conditions like glaucoma, macular degeneration or retinopathy that could affect or be affected by the procedure.”

After the examination is completed, Dr. Fridman reviews the results with patients and their families. “I engage with the patient in a thorough discussion about every aspect of their eye health. It’s important they understand the risks, however low, and the benefits of cataract surgery. At this time, we also review details about the surgery so patients know exactly what to expect.”

Easy procedure, fast recovery

Cataract surgery, in most cases, can be accomplished in under ten minutes. And patients typically are able to return to their normal activities the day after. It is not unusual for a patient to have cataract surgery in the morning, rest for a few hours, and then enjoy lunch or an evening out with friends, all on the same day.

A small incision – measuring about one-eighth of an inch in length – allows the introduction of a small ultrasonic probe that applies sound waves to the cataract, emulsifying it so Dr. Fridman can then gently remove the debris from the tiny capsular sac that protects the lens.

Explains the doctor: “The size of the incision is important. We want it to be as small as possible to enable faster healing. By placing the incision on the clear corneal tissue, we ensure that we do not cross the delicate blood vessels, making it possible for heart patients to enjoy the benefits of cataract surgery without the need to interrupt their blood-thinning medications.”

When the cataract has been removed, Dr. Fridman carefully places the small lens implant and the procedure is complete.

“Although patients typically feel quite well after the surgery, I do suggest they refrain from heavy lifting and put off swimming, whether in salt water or fresh water, for a week or so to reduce the chances of infection.”

Margaret’s family was thrilled with the results of the surgery.

“We were all amazed at how much better she is doing now,” Wendy says enthusiastically. “She can pretty much read everything and her distance vision is excellent. We have a prescription for low-level reading glasses that we haven’t filled yet. I’m not worried anymore about her falling. The results of the surgery have just been wonderful.”

Margaret is very happy with the results, too.

“I can read any newspaper, any magazine without any glasses at all,” she says. “I was very comfortable and just felt like the whole thing went extremely well.”