Novartis Ophthalmics: Eye Exams Can Help Prevent Falls by Elderly

According to Study, Falls from Vision Impairment are Responsible for 18 Percent of Hip Fractures Every Year, Costing Billions


ATLANTA, July 31, 2003 (PRIMEZONE) -- As Congress debates adding prescription drug benefits to the Medicare program, elderly healthcare is front page news. The leading cause of injury and death for adults over age 65 is falls, which cost billions of dollars every year and which can be prevented. Many falls are caused by poor vision.

According to Lighthouse International, a nonprofit health organization, studies show that more than one-third of adults aged 65 and older fall, and of those who fall, 20 to 30 percent suffer moderate to severe injuries that reduce mobility and independence. The nonprofit, nonpartisan Alliance for Aging Research says older people's loss of independence costs $26 billion annually.

"It's a domino effect," said Jeffrey Smythe, director of resource development at Senior Citizen Services of Metropolitan Atlanta Inc. "The falls lead to health problems which lead to loss of independence. And, of course, this adds to our national healthcare costs."

A number of factors -- from thick-soled shoes to poor balance to overmedication -- can cause falls, but the Framingham Eye Study reports that falls from vision impairment are responsible for 18 percent of hip fractures by older Americans at a cost of treatment of $2.2 billion each year.

"Regular eye exams can help discover what we call the `sneaky eye diseases' like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration or AMD," said Reza Haque, M.D., principal clinical scientist at Novartis Ophthalmics North America. The company is the maker of Visudyne(r) (verteporfin for injection), the only drug treatment for the wet form of AMD. There is no treatment for the dry form of AMD.

The National Eye Institute says diseases that affect the elderly such as AMD will have an increasingly important social and economic impact in the United States. According to the institute, "as the size of the elderly population increases in this country, AMD will become a more prevalent cause of blindness than both diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma combined."

"People with glaucoma don't realize they are gradually losing their peripheral vision," said Haque. "People with AMD gradually lose their central vision. Both diseases cause blindness over time, but the vision loss can be controlled with early treatment."

In addition to eye exams, there are other things senior citizens can do to prevent falls, said Smythe.

 -- A regular exercise program: Exercise builds strength and improves
    balance and coordination. Lack of exercise leads to weakness and
    increases chances of falling.
 -- A safer home:
       -- Remove throw rugs and clutter that can be tripped over from
          stairs and floors.
       -- Improve lighting.
       -- Keep frequently used items in cabinets that can be easily
       -- Install grab bars in the tub or shower and next to the
       -- Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors.
       -- Install handrails and lights on all staircases.
       -- Wear shoes with good support and thin, non-slip soles.
          Avoid slippers and thick-soled athletic shoes.
 -- A medication review by a doctor: Medication or combinations of
    medications can make seniors drowsy or light-headed, which can
    lead to a fall. Doctors should be informed of all medications,
    even over-the-counter products, taken by their elderly patients.
 -- A regular eye exam: Seniors may be wearing the wrong glasses or
    be in the early stages of a "sneaky disease" like glaucoma or AMD.
    Early treatment can prevent vision loss.

Background on Novartis Ophthalmics

With worldwide headquarters in Basal, Switzerland, Novartis Ophthalmics is a global leader in research, development and manufacturing of leading ophthalmic pharmaceuticals that assist in the treatment of glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, eye inflammation, ocular allergies and other diseases and disorders of the eye. Novartis Ophthalmics products are available in more than 110 different countries. The North American headquarters is based in Atlanta, Ga. Novartis Ophthalmics has production sites in Switzerland, France and Canada. For more information, please go to the web site

Background on Novartis AG

Novartis AG (NYSE:NVS) is a world leader in pharmaceuticals and consumer health. In 2002, the Group's businesses achieved sales of CHF 32.4 billion (USD 20.9 billion) and a net income of CHF 7.3 billion (USD 4.7 billion). The Group invested approximately CHF 4.3 billion (USD 2.8 billion) in R&D. Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Novartis Group companies employ about 72 900 people and operate in over 140 countries around the world. For further information please consult


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