Fear of Falling

Fear of falling in the elderly often due to psychological factors and not physiological.Older people are naturally concerned about falling because of the consequences a tumble can involve. A recent study by Neuroscience Research Australia has found that to much worry about falling – even if physiological tests indicate low risk – increases the probability that an individual will fall.  The study also found that older people who are at high physical risk of falling but tend to not think about it, fall less often than their more concerned counterparts.

Published in the British medical journal BMJ, the study followed 500 Sydney residents with an average age of 78 who underwent medical, physiological and neuropsychological tests.  The majority of participants were able to correctly evaluate their likelihood of falling, though one-third were wrong in their self assessments.  This group felt more or less susceptible than their strength, balance, reaction time and other physical characteristics indicated.  The research team labeled 11 percent as the “anxious” group, who had a higher perceived risk than was physiologically true.  Another 20 percent were called “stoics” and were at risk of falling even though they didn’t think about it very often.  Over the year of the study, the anxious people did have more falls, with 40 percent suffering injuries.  Only 33 percent of the so-called stoics fell, despite the fact they were at higher physical risk.

According to Stephen Lord, an applied physiologist who was part of the research team, “These anxious people were more likely to be depressed, to have restricted their activities, and it looks as though these factors feed on each other.  People who are fearful do less, and that leads to deconditioning, to a loss of strength and balance.  They become preoccupied with the possibility.  The stoics, by contrast, maintained more positive attitudes and more active lives despite their physical problems.

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