Fear of Falling: Definition, Characteristics, Treatment

Jennifer E. Engen

Fear of falling is one of the most common fears older adults deal with. However, it can diminish your self-confidence so much that you start limiting your activity. This can make you weaker and more prone to falling.

Facing your fears about falling will help make those feelings less overwhelming. This article will explore possible reasons behind your anxiety and help you learn ways to lower fall risks.

Toa55 / Getty Images


What Is Fear of Falling?

The fear of falling is an excessive concern of losing stability, falling to the ground, and suffering injury. An incident may trigger this emotion, but many seniors live with such fear even though they’ve never fallen.

According to government statistics, 4 out of 5 falls do not cause serious injury. Still, such trips or slips scare many seniors into cutting back on activities they can still do. A 2020 geriatric study reported that the fear of falling limits older adults’ everyday activities as much as having had several previous falls does.

Characteristics

Overcaution

You can lose your balance from external hazards, such as a wet floor. You can also fall from self-initiated motions, such as reaching for an item. 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, his extra caution may not be beneficial, as it may ultimately increase their risk of falling.

Balance Control Differences

People who report having a fear of falling show less control over their balance than individuals of similar ages and physical abilities. Their anxiety may increase if they repeatedly face threats to their balance.

Aging and the onset of neurological diseases affects how people handle perceived or real threats. Fear of falling causes them to shift their body weight incorrectly, leading to almost half of all falls in older adults.

Risk Factors

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

Treatments

There are ways to reduce your fear and risk of falls. Studies suggest that improving physical and cognitive fitness, along with making lifestyle changes, help people reclaim their confidence in moving about.

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 or more international units (IUs) can reduce fall rates. Taking vitamin D3 with calcium appears to boost the effects of fall reduction. Consistency is key, as nondaily doses seem to increase fall rates, although not significantly.
  • Eye exams: Impaired vision can double your risk of falling. Have your eyes examined at least once per year, and update your prescription as needed.
  • Exercise: Exercise can help you improve your coordination, stability, and self-confidence. It also builds balance by strengthening your core, legs, and buttocks. Some especially helpful forms of exercise 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 severely limiting your movement will prevent a fall, especially if you have previously lost your balance. Ask your healthcare provider about working with a physical therapist to help you restore your confidence and mobility. A physical therapist may offer gait training. With this type of therapy, you will strengthen muscles, learn and practice good walking form, and improve your posture.
  • Lighting: As individuals grow older, they often need more light to get around. According to a Norwegian study, improving the quality of lighting at home can promote comfort, well-being, and self-reliance for everyday activities.
  • Adaptive equipment: Your healthcare provider or physical therapist might prescribe the use of adaptive equipment for the short or long term. These include products that help you remain stable and safe while performing daily tasks.

Equipment Types

Types of adaptive equipment that can help reduce falls include:

  • Grab bars
  • Tub/shower chair
  • Walkers
  • Canes
  • Ramps
  • Fall detection devices

Coping

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

  • Identify and avoid situations that put you at a greater risk of falling.
  • Have a plan for obtaining help if you do fall.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider or a friend about your fears.
  • Catch and reframe negative thoughts.
  • Stay active.
  • Set small goals to increase your self-confidence.

Tips for Staying Steady

Trying even one of these approaches can help you reduce your chances of falling:

  • Wear sturdy, nonslip shoes that fit properly.
  • 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

The fear of falling is an excessive concern of losing stability and suffering injury. Fear of falling can hinder you from living an active, independent lifestyle. It also works against you by increasing your chances of falling.

However, improving your physical and cognitive fitness can help you reclaim your confidence in moving around. With your healthcare provider’s help, 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 that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It’s natural to be concerned about falling, but not so much that you give up freedom and mobility prematurely.

One key to aging safely is to remain as active as possible. Have your healthcare provider 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 to become dizzy or drowsy.

If you have suffered a fall, call your healthcare provider right away. You might need urgent or emergency care to rule out any brain injury or broken bones. If you’re feeling unbalanced or falling often, please let your healthcare provider know.

https://www.verywellhealth.com/fear-of-falling-5212414

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