Falls are the most common cause of injury in older adults and The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates between 20-30% of adults over 65 fall each year. There are numerous consequences associated with falls including decreased independence, hospitalization, and injury. The physical effects of falls are nearly always treated, but the psychological effects are often overlooked.
Fear of falling, also known as post-fall syndrome, describes symptoms of anxiety one feels related to walking or falling. While this usually occurs after one has experienced a fall, it can also can occur in adults over 60 who have not fallen. It can lead people to avoid certain activities and decrease their overall activity level causing deconditioning. This loss of function leads to decreased autonomy, isolation, and dependence. You may notice your loved one clutching onto furniture or nearby people for support more often. They may begin to avoid certain activities like walking outside or in unknown environments. Other signs include a slower walking speed and keeping their eyes glued to the floor. If you notice these changes in yourself or your loved one, it is important to be aware of the ways to help.
1) Talk to your doctor
Speak with your family doctor or health care provider about your fear of falling. Maybe there is a health problem, like a vision change or pain from arthritis that you need to address. Your physician or healthcare provider can explore your concerns and offer solutions.
Exercise is crucial for building and maintaining the strength in your legs, buttocks and core muscles. These muscle groups all work together to improve your balance. Also, certain types of exercise like tai chi, yoga and Pilates can improve your strength and function. If you are unsure of the types of exercises to do or want to get a program speak with a physiotherapist or kinesiologist.
3) Address any hazards or risks
There are a number of factors in your environment that can contribute to falls. Be sure to optimize your environment by removing clutter, installing adaptive equipment, having proper lighting, etc. An occupational therapist can help to assess your environment and make recommendations to enhance your safety.
4) Plan for falls
Having a plan in case you fall can help you feel more secure and cope with your fears. There are automated and manual alert systems which you can purchase. These devices can be automatic and sense you have had a fall, or allow you to press an alert button which calls for medical assistance. Another way you can prepare is by practicing ways to get up once you have had a fall. A physiotherapist can show you techniques and practice this with you.
5) Reduce your anxiety
There are a number of ways you can reduce your anxiety. Breathing techniques can calm your mind and help relax your muscles. Make sure you are getting enough sleep as this allows you to think more clearly and cope with your worries. Also, cut down on caffeine as it can contribute to increased anxiety and disturb your sleep.
If your loved one is struggling with a fear of falling that is not improving and is stopping them for doing their usual activities, get support. Speak with a healthcare professional about your concerns and check out helpful resources including the Canadian Fall Prevention website.