Fear of Falling Poses Additional Risk, Research Shows

It turns out that a fear of falling can make seniors more likely to do just that, according to research conducted by Stephen Lord and other researchers from Australia and Belgium. The results are published in the August 19th edition of the British Medical Journal and are reported by HealthLeaders Media.stairs

A fear of falling can lead to social isolation, when seniors choose to stay in rather than participate in group or other social activities, which can lead to emotional well-being issues anyway. But now we know that this same fear can actually contribute to an increased risk of falls. Seniors who become sedentary due to fears can lose physical strength, muscle tone, and balance, which leaves them more likely to fall when they do go out and about.

The research, which studied 500 seniors between the ages of 70 and 90 in Sydney, Australia, analyzed participants’ perceived risk of falling and physiological condition compared to actual falls and resulting injuries that occurred over the next twelve months.

  • 198 participants were placed in a low-risk group; 302 were placed in a high risk group, based on physiological condition.
  • One-third of participants had a different perceived risk than their actual risk.
  • 54 participants in the low-risk group believed they have a high risk of falls.
  • 21 of the 54 (39%) actually fell, suggesting their perception played a role in their risk.
  • 100 participants in the high-risk group believed their risk to be lower than their actual risk.
  • 20 of the 100 (20%) actually fell.

This preliminary research was based on self-reports from participants, reducing reliability and accuracy. However, researchers do conclude that health practitioners should proactively address seniors’ attitudes towards fall risks, because identifying an individual’s perceived risk can help with selecting appropriate fall prevention efforts. Assisted living facilities and nursing homes, which commonly focus on developing effective fall prevention programs, can make use of this research by incorporating interventions to improve attitudes and perceived risks.

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