Fear of falling linked with poor balance,
confidence in older women
In a study of older adults, primarily African-American women, Temple researcher Roberta Newton found a strong fear of falling, which increases the risk of ultimately suffering a fall.
Newton, professor of physical therapy at the College of Health Professions, found that this fear was linked to lower self-confidence and poorer balance and stability. She presented her research at the recent joint conference of the American Society on Aging and The National Council on Aging.
“The more we understand what causes fear of falling, the better equipped we are to prevent falls,” Newton said.
Falls are not only disabling but are potentially deadly, with wrist and hip fractures and head trauma leading the list of injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every hour, fall-related injuries send 183 older adults to the emergency room and one of those individuals dies as a result of the fall.
Newton’s study consisted of 204 older adults who were discharged from the emergency department after a fall. The average age of the participants, who were primarily African American (89 percent) and female (75 percent), was 76 years. Newton measured sociodemographics, activities of daily living, physical activities, balance, mobility, endurance and stability. SShe found that for those who have fallen, either at home or in a nursing home, fear can be as high as 75 percent.
Fear of falling occurs in individuals who have fallen and those who have not fallen, and can lead older adults and caretakers to unnecessarily restrict activity. Decreased physical activity saps older adults’ strength and stability, leaving them more vulnerable to falling. While researchers aren’t certain which comes first, the fear or the physical inactivity, they are confident that the two are interrelated.
“It’s important for us to recognize that older adults might be afraid of falling, and just like with falls, they are reluctant to report this because they don’t want to lose their independence,” Newton said.
She suggested that they participate in enjoyable physical activities, such as dancing, gardening or walking, which can help in preventing falls and also in reducing fear of falling. Newton has developed numerous tests to analyze falling risk as well as interventions to prevent falls.
Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging and the Health Resources and Services Administration.
- By Eryn Jelesiewicz