Elderly people who are very worried about falling are more likely to have a fall – even if they are in reasonable health and their physical risk of falling seems low, new research has found. In contrast, those with a higher physical risk, but who were unconcerned about falling, were actually less likely to fall…
Doctors have spent a lot of time looking at the physical factors that affect risk of falling – for example, people’s eyesight, balance, muscle strength, and the type of medication they take. But it’s been recognised for some time that fear of falling is closely associated with likelihood of having a fall.
What doctors didn’t know was whether fear of falling was simply a rational response to the person’s actual, physical risk. Also, if people were encouraged to be less fearful of falling, would that actually increase their risk of a fall, by allowing them to take more risks..?
About one third of the people in the study had either an overly optimistic or overly pessimistic view of their chances of having a fall, compared with their assessed physical risk.
The people who had a low physical risk, but were very fearful of falling, were much more likely to have a fall than the people with the same level of physical risk, but a low fear of falling.
Perhaps surprisingly, the people who had a high risk on the physical assessment, but who weren’t worried about falling, were much less likely to fall, compared with people with both a high risk and a high fear of falling.
The factors that seemed to increase people’s fear of falls were symptoms of depression, self-perceived poor health, a poorer quality of life, and symptoms of anxiety. People with a lower fear of falling were more likely to have an active lifestyle, less likely to take medicine that could affect their balance, had a higher quality of life, and rated their overall health as good…
However, we can’t be sure that it was simply fear that made the difference to people’s likelihood of falling. It could be that fear was related to something not measured in the study, which affected falls risk. The study doesn’t explain why fear of falling is linked to a higher risk of falling.
This article actually makes me smile. I had a strong fear of falling when I was a kid; but, ended up doing a fair bit of high altitude hill-walking and rough climbing. Reason and acquired skills overcame the fear. Mostly.
Now, at an advanced age and with a chronic condition or two that increases the risk of falling, I wouldn’t say I have a heightened fear of falling – but, I’m more aware of circumstances that might promote a fall.
Yes, I carry a cane – though I use it only a small percentage of the time. I find it useful to get me standing more erect when setting out for one of my dog walks along the fence line. I grabbed this article because I thought it may have moved forward to greater understanding of the phenomenon. At best, it’s confirmation. A start.