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Introduction: Thirty percent of older adults have a gait disorder associated with falls and reduced mobility. The relationship between vision and gait has not been conclusively confirmed. The aim of this paper was to investigate the relationship between measures of vision and gait in older adults.

Methods: Participants were recruited as part of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing. Visual acuity was measured using LogMAR charts and contrast sensitivity using the Functional Acuity Contrast Test (FACT). Gait was assessed using the GAITRite system to capture gait speed (m/s), cadence (spm), stride length (m) and double support phase (%). Multivariate associations were examined using linear regression and all analysis was performed after reweighting for non-response and controlling for covariates: age, gender, education, body mass index, number of medications, cardiovascular and chronic conditions, behavioural health factors, diseases which effect vision and mental health.

Results: Data from 4,641 participants were available for analysis. In the multivariate models, better contrast sensitivity was found to be independently associated with faster gait speed (0.05, 95% CI: 0.02–0.09), reduced cadence (−0.02, 95% CI:−0.04 to −0.0024), increased stride length (0.04, 95% CI: 0.014–0.07, P < 0.01) and reduced double support phase (−0.01, 95% CI: −0.02 to −0.001) (P < 0.05). Forty-nine percent of the variance in the stride length was explained by the model. Visual acuity was not independently associated with any of the gait variables considered (P >0.05).

Conclusion: Higher contrast sensitivity but not visual acuity is independently associated with better gait. This is intuitively satisfying given the role of contrast sensitivity in spatial awareness. Visual acuity assessment is currently included in the AGS/BGS guidelines for the assessment of falls. Future studies should examine the role of contrast sensitivity in routine geriatric assessment of gait disturbances especially in the context of falls.

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