Fear of falling: definition, characteristics, treatment

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Fear of falling is one of the most common fears among older people. However, it can lower your self-confidence so much that you begin to limit your activity. It can make you weaker and more likely to fall.

Facing your fears of falling will help make these feelings less overwhelming. This article will explore the possible reasons for your anxiety and help you learn ways to reduce the risk of falling.

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What is the fear of falling?

Fear of falling is excessive preoccupation with losing stability, falling to the ground and injuring oneself. An incident can trigger this emotion, but many older people live with such fear even though they have never fallen.

According to government statistics, 4 out of 5 falls do not cause serious injury. Yet such trips or slides frighten many older people into reducing the activities they can still do. A 2020 geriatric study reported that fear of falling limits the daily activities of older adults as much as having already had multiple falls.

Characteristics

Excess of caution

You can lose your balance due to external hazards, such as wet ground. You can also fall from self-initiated moves, like reaching for an object. In response, you will usually adjust your posture and the way you walk.

A 2020 study showed that when individuals are constantly afraid of falling, the central nervous system makes them more cautious. However, her extra caution may not be beneficial, as it may ultimately increase her risk of falling.

Balance control differences

People who report being afraid of falling show less control over their balance than people of similar age and physical abilities. Their anxiety may increase if they repeatedly face threats to their balance.

Aging and the onset of neurological diseases affect how people deal with perceived or real threats. Fear of falling causes them to shift their body weight incorrectly, which results in nearly half of all falls in older adults.

Risk factors

Many physical and environmental conditions can cause people to worry excessively about falls. These risk factors include:

Treatments

There are ways to reduce your fear and risk of falling. Studies suggest that improving physical and cognitive fitness, along with lifestyle changes, helps people regain their confidence to move around.

Ask your healthcare provider if any of the following treatments would work for you:

  • Supplements: Vitamin D is widely used to strengthen bones. Research indicates that daily doses of 800 international units (IU) or more may reduce rates of falling. Taking vitamin D3 with calcium appears to enhance the effects of reducing falls. Consistency is key, as non-daily doses seem to increase drop rates, but not significantly.
  • Eye exams: Poor vision can double your risk of falling. Have your eyes checked at least once a year and update your prescription as needed.
  • Exercise: Exercise can help improve your coordination, stability and confidence. It also strengthens balance by strengthening your core, legs and buttocks. Some forms of exercise that are particularly helpful for balance include Pilates, tai chi, yoga, swimming or pool aerobics, and using an exercise bike.
  • physical therapy: It can be tempting to think that by severely limiting your movements, you will avoid a fall, especially if you have already lost your balance. Ask your health care provider about working with a physical therapist to help you regain your confidence and mobility. A physical therapist can provide gait training. With this type of therapy, you will strengthen your muscles, learn and practice good walking form, and improve your posture.
  • Lighting: As people age, they often need more light to move around. According to a Norwegian study, improving the quality of lighting in the home can promote comfort, well-being and autonomy for daily activities.
  • Adaptive equipment: Your health care provider or physiotherapist may prescribe the use of adaptive equipment for the short or long term. These include products that help keep you stable and secure while performing daily tasks.

Types of equipment

Types of adaptive equipment that can help reduce falls include:

  • Grab bars
  • Bath/shower chair
  • Walkers
  • walking sticks
  • Ramps
  • Fall detection devices

To face

If you know what triggers your fears, you can control them. Here are some steps you can take to reduce your fear of falling:

  • Identify and avoid situations that put you at greater risk of falling.
  • Have a plan for getting help if you fall.
  • Talk to your health care provider or a friend about your concerns.
  • Catch and reframe negative thoughts.
  • Stay active.
  • Set small goals to boost your self-confidence.

Tips for staying stable

Trying just one of these approaches can help reduce your risk of falling:

  • Wear sturdy, non-slip shoes that fit you well.
  • Walk in familiar places.
  • Walk with someone strong enough to support you.
  • Avoid walking at night, in the dark, or in wet or icy conditions.

Summary

Fear of falling is excessive preoccupation with losing stability and injuring oneself. Fear of falling can prevent you from leading an active and independent life. It also works against you by increasing your chances of falling.

However, improving your physical and cognitive fitness can help you regain your confidence to move around. With help from your healthcare provider, you may be able to retrain your mind and body to keep moving and enjoying life.

A word from Verywell

President Franklin D. Roosevelt said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It’s natural to worry about falls, but not to the point of prematurely giving up freedom and mobility.

One of the keys to aging safely is to stay as active as possible. Ask your healthcare provider to assess your risk of falling and recommend ways to prevent falls. Ask them to review your over-the-counter and prescription medications to determine if any of them may be causing you dizziness or drowsiness.

If you have fallen, call your healthcare provider immediately. You may need urgent or emergency care to rule out brain damage or bone fractures. If you feel unbalanced or fall often, please let your health care provider know.

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