Fear of Falling in Older Adults

Falls in older adults are the leading cause of injury and hospitalization in Canada, and according to the Seniors’ Falls Report by the Public Health Agency of Canada, between 20 and 30 percent of seniors fall each year.

The fear of falling can be overwhelming for seniors, especially those who have experienced a recent fall.  The fear of falling can increase the risk of doing so if the fear leads to avoiding activities that may help improve balance, mobility and strength.  It can become a vicious cycle and studies have demonstrated that fear may prevent activity which results in a loss a physical fitness and increases the likelihood of falls.

A 2003 Queen’s University School of Rehabilitation Therapy study found that seniors who were fearful of falling “demonstrated limitations in balance ability and balance confidence that could not be explained by muscle weakness”.  Further study at the university found that programs designed to reduce the fear of falling, including low-resistance exercises and weight-shifting activities as well as identifying and reducing risk factors for falls, resulted in improved balance confidence.

Regular exercise, osteoporosis screening (and if necessary treatment), review of medications which may cause drowsiness, vision screening and home safety are just a few of the measures older adults can take to minimize the risk of falls.   Physical therapists can help seniors prevent falls by working on balance exercises and improve walking confidence.  Other helpful activities such as Tai Chi, which focuses on balance and leg strength, may also help reduce the risk of injury from falls.

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