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Fear of Falling Can Lead to Falls, Researchers Conclude

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, August 23, 2010

For a senior, a fear of falling can create a downward spiral.  It can lead refusal to participate in activities, which can results in muscle weakening and loss of strength and balance, which increases the risk of falling.

"Excessive fear of falling can lead to needless restriction in participation in physical and social activities, resulting in physical deconditioning, poor quality of life, social isolation, depression, and psychological distress," wrote Stephen Lord and other researchers from Australia and Belgium in the Aug. 19 issue of the British Medical Journal.

The researchers concluded that their findings suggest providers should be more attentive to asking their patients how afraid they might be of falling, because the answers to that self-evaluation might be helpful in designing fall prevention efforts, such as ways to build confidence, provide better balance perception or specific strength building exercises.

The Australian researchers did not indicate the cost of caring for fall injuries in their study participants. But in the U.S., federal research last October revealed that 30% of elderly patients who went to the emergency room because of a fall had to be admitted, which incurred $6.8 billion in hospital costs in 2006. 

The report, from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, said falls sent 2.1 million people to the emergency room in 2006, the reason why one in 10 people over age 65 needed emergency room care.

The current study, which enrolled 500 people between the ages of 70 and 90 from Sydney Australia, compared the seniors' perceived risk of falling with their actual physiological condition as well as whether they actually had fallen and incurred injuries from that fall serious enough to be disabling in the next 12 months.

They were divided into four groups, vigorous, anxious, stoic, and aware, based on the disparity between their physiological and perceived risk of falling.

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