Fear of Falling – The Rising Epidemic in Seniors

Today there is a widespread misconception that falling is a normal and inevitable part of aging. Studies show, in fact, as many as 55% of older, community-dwelling adults have a fear of falling, even if they have never had a fall. The truth is, falling is not a normal part of the aging process. This misconception adds to the fears older adults may have about falls, often leading to a downward spiral in physical, emotional and cognitive health.

Fear of Falling is defined as “an exaggerated concern of falling that frequently leads to a self-imposed restriction in activities”. It can cause a decline in health and physical function and lower self-esteem, which often result in seniors restricting normal activities like taking a shower, doing light housekeeping, or socializing with friends.  A reduction in physical activity leads to muscle loss, deconditioning and poorer balance, all which can actually increase the likelihood of a fall when they do need to move. The senior also tends to interact less with family and friends, causing them to become socially isolated, depressed and anxious.

Who is at risk?

Studies have shown there are many factors that are associated with a fear of falling:

Demographic: adults over 80 and females, (although it is suspected that men simply underreport falls due to embarrassment, denial of their fears and the stigma associated with asking for help)

Physical: obesity, poor/unstable mobility, use of a walking aid, impaired gait and balance, decreased physical activity, avoidance or restricting of activities and history of previous falls (especially when they required medical attention)

Mental: depression, decreased life satisfaction, low self-reported health, low self-efficacy, anxiety, decreased quality of life

Social: living alone, limited social contacts

How is Fear of Falling Reduced?

• Screening: General screening allows those at highest risk to be identified and for interventions to begin. Screening can be performed by registered health professionals like nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists who are trained to use specific tools to assess factors such as balance, mobility, social support and cognitive abilities. Screening is often done when a client accesses a service like home care.

• Exercise: Exercise increases general strength and balance, while also improving confidence. Exercise can be accomplished in a group setting, such as a Tai Chi class (which also promotes socialization), walking (indoors or outdoors) or by participating in an exercise program at home. A physiotherapist can provide a safe home exercise program designed specifically to meet an individual’s needs and capability.

• Social: Having regular interaction with family, friends, health professionals and social organizations can all help to reduce fear of falling. These interactions encourage the individual to improve or maintain their activity, to talk about their fears and to seek out help if they need to. Having good social support is a key factor in reducing fear of falling.

• Psychological: Any steps that can be taken to reduce anxiety and depression, and increase the person’s confidence and sense of well-being have been found to be effective in reducing fear of falling. This can include education on fall prevention, encouraging the idea that falls and fear of falling are controllable, and making suggestions to improve the safety of their home environment.

Living in fear is not living. If you or someone you know has a fear of falling and is showing signs of reduced activity, depression or isolation, contact United Nursing Services today at 1-800-334-5140. Our registered health professionals can help you to get back on your feet and begin enjoying life again!

For more information on home care palliative care services, contact UNS today at 1-800-334-5140 or email [email protected].

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