Studies Show that Fear of Falling is a Risk to the Elderly

Falling has proven to be a very serious risk among the elderly.

With one out of three adults aged 65 and older falling each year–and falls accounting for the number one cause of death and injury among them–it’s no surprise that many seniors have developed a fear of falling.

But what may come as a surprise to many is that the fear of falling may actually increase the risk of falling, along with other consequences affecting the mental and physical health of the elderly.

Here’s what some studies have found regarding fear of falling:

1. Fear of falling leads to increases in social isolation

According to one study, approximately 10% of older adults living independently in the community, including more than 5% of those who have never fallen, experience moderate to severe fear of falling. As a result, the study found that many seniors avoided multiple activities, leading an increase in social isolation.

2. Fear of falling actually boosts the risk of falling

Another study in the British Medical Journal found that 43% (214) out of 500 seniors they surveyed reported one or more falls. The researchers then split the sample into four groups based on the disparity between their actual and perceived risk. This is what they found:

  • While the anxious group had a low risk of falling, the group perceived their risk as high. As a result, among 40% of this group had several falls over the year of the study. Researchers believed that this outlook was linked to an increased likelihood of depressive symptoms, neurotic personality traits and poor physical health.
  • On the other hand, the stoic group had a high risk of falling but did not think they did. Yet, only one in three experienced one or more falls. What researchers found was that this outlook offered some protection against falling and was linked to a positive outlook on life, physical activity, and community participation.

Fear of falling, then, is more than just mental–it can actually influence the fall rate among the elderly.

3. Fear of falling puts seniors at risk for disability

As mentioned in the study above, the fear of falling can be linked to an increase in mental health problems, but beyond depression and anxiety, studies have shown an increased risk in disability, too.

In a study taken among older adults with eye disease, researchers found that seniors who limited their activity due to fear of falling had greater comorbidity. In turn, the study suggested that older adults should stay as mobile as safely possible to help prevent morbidity associated with a sedentary lifestyle, mobility disability and mortality.

While the fear of falling is a very real and serious concern, keeping in mind the consequences and risk of such fears is equally as important.

At Encompass, we provide the knowledge and services that ensure the proper steps are being taken to reduce risks associated with aging. If you’d like to know more about falls among the elderly, you should see our falls section here. And as always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact us in the comments or on Twitter.

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