Fear of falling is one of the most common fears among older adults. However, it can weaken your self-confidence so much that you start limiting your activities. This makes you weaker and more prone to falls.
Facing your fear of falling will help reduce these feelings. This article will explore the possible reasons behind your anxiety and help you learn ways to reduce your risk of falling.
What is the fear of falling?
Fear of falling is excessive worry about losing stability, falling to the ground, and getting injured. An event can trigger this emotion, but many older adults live with this fear even if they never fall.
According to government statistics, four out of five falls do not cause serious injury. Still, such trips or slips can scare many older adults into reducing the activities they can still do. A 2020 study of older adults reported that fear of falling limited older adults’ daily activities, as had several previous falls.
Reasons why older adults may fall
You may lose balance due to external hazards such as wet floors. You may also fall due to spontaneous movements, such as reaching for objects. In response, you 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 reported a fear of falling had less control of their balance than people of similar age and physical ability. If they face repeated threats to their balance, their anxiety may increase.
Aging and the onset of neurological disease can affect the way people deal with perceived or actual threats. Fear of falling causes them to shift weight incorrectly, causing almost half of older adults to fall.
Many physical and environmental conditions can lead to excessive fear of falling. These risk factors include:
- Nervous system disease
- Difficulty with balance and walking
- lower body weakness
- vision problems
- vitamin D deficiency
- use of medications that affect balance, such as sedatives and certain antidepressants
- poor vision
- Foot pain or poorly fitting shoes
- Uneven floors or steps and trip hazards
There are ways to reduce your fear and risk of falling. Research shows that improving physical and cognitive health, as well as making lifestyle changes, can help people regain their confidence in activity.
Ask your healthcare provider if any of the following treatments are right for you:
- Supplements: Vitamin D is widely used to strengthen bones. Studies have shown that daily doses of 800 International Units (IU) or more can reduce the rate of falls. Taking vitamin D3 and calcium seems to enhance the effect of reducing falls. Consistency was key, as non-daily doses appeared to increase the rate of falls, albeit not significantly.
- Eye exam: Impaired vision doubles the risk of falls. Check your eyes at least once a year and renew your prescription as needed.
- Exercise: Exercise can help you improve coordination, stability, and confidence. It also builds balance by strengthening your core, legs, and glutes. Some forms of exercise that are particularly helpful for balance include Pilates, Tai Chi, yoga, swimming or pool cardio, and using an exercise bike.
- Physical therapy: It’s easy to think that severely restricting your movement will prevent falls, especially if you’ve lost your balance before. Talk to your healthcare provider about working with a physical therapist to help restore your confidence and mobility. A physical therapist may provide gait training. With this therapy, you will strengthen your muscles, learn and practice good walking styles, and improve your posture.
- Lighting: As individuals age, they generally need more light to move around. According to a Norwegian study, improving the quality of home lighting can promote comfort, well-being and self-reliance in daily activities.
- Adaptive devices: Your healthcare provider or physical therapist may prescribe short-term or long-term use of adaptive devices. These include products that help you stay stable and safe while performing everyday tasks.
Types of adaptive equipment that can help reduce falls include:
- Bath/Shower Chair
- fall detection device
If you know what triggers your fears, you can control them. Here are steps you can take to reduce your fear of falling:
- Identify and avoid situations that put you at greater risk of falls.
- Make a plan to get help if you fall.
- Talk to your healthcare provider or friend about your fears.
- Capture and reframe negative thoughts.
- Stay active.
- Set small goals to increase your self-confidence.
Tips for staying steady
Even trying one of these methods can help you reduce your chances of falling:
- Wear suitable sturdy, non-slip shoes.
- Walk in familiar places.
- Go with people who are strong enough to support you.
- Avoid walking at night, in the dark, in wet or icy conditions.
Fear of falling is excessive worry about loss of stability and injury. Fear of falling can prevent you from living an active, independent lifestyle. It also increases the chance of falling, which works against you.
However, improving your physical and cognitive abilities can help you regain the confidence to move around. With the help of your healthcare provider, you may be able to retrain your mind and body to stay active and enjoy life.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we need to fear is fear itself.” It’s natural to worry about falling, but it doesn’t give up freedom and mobility prematurely.
A key to safe aging is staying 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 see if any of them may be causing you to feel dizzy or drowsy.
If you fall, call your healthcare provider right away. You may need urgent or urgent care to rule out any brain damage or fracture. Tell your healthcare provider if you feel unbalanced or fall frequently.
Mental Health Hotline
If you or a loved one is struggling with extreme fear of falling, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our national helpline database.