Read on for part-two of Lifetime Daily’s three-part series on the risks of falling and how to reduce injuries from a fall.
Since falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths and third leading cause of poor health among older adults, it makes perfect sense that basiphobia — otherwise known as the fear of falling — is at the top of many people’s phobia list.
Unfortunately, it can lead to a fear of walking, standing and living your life — all of which may actually increase your chances of falling. Talk about a catch-22.
Why We Develop a Fear of Falling
Many doctors used to think that people who’d already taken a tumble or two, even if they weren’t injured, developed a fear of falling. However, research published in Age and Ageing indicates that a fear of falling is actually quite common among older adults.
Why? Well, the connection between falling and loss of independence is pretty clear. And even if a fall itself isn’t immediately fatal, a broken bone, brain injury or other serious injury that results from a fall could be.
“For so many of us, avoiding a serious fall can literally mean the difference between life and death,” says Berry Pierre, a doctor of osteopathic medicine in West Palm Beach, FL. “It can be a daily learning process, with a balance of fear and adventure wrapped into one.”
Joseph Brence, a physical therapist, educator and researcher in Pittsburgh, PA, adds: “If you’re over 65 and fearful of falling, you’re not alone. Many older adults report they’re fearful because they’ve already experienced a fall, or had a friend or family member who experienced a fall.”
Something as simple as a stumble off the curb could set off a domino effect of injury, immobility, loss of independence and more. That’s a lot to be afraid of and, for patients who’ve had a stroke, cancer or for those who live with a life-altering condition, research suggests a fear of falling is even more prevalent.
Falling and The Differences Between Men and Women
Studies show that women report a fear of falling more often than men. Not surprisingly, men are less likely to report being afraid, and underestimate how much risk they’re actually in. The men and women who worried least about falling were those who reported being physically and socially active. While these statistics sound somewhat predictable, what’s startling is that men actually could stand to worry a little more than they do.
According to the World Health Organization, while women are more likely to break a bone in a fall, men are more likely to die from fall-related injuries.
The Fear of Falling Cycle
If your fear of falling is severe, you might take preventative measures too far and begin to limit your physical activity. This can have a negative impact on your health.
“The fear of falling cycle frequently goes like this,” says Natalie Sanders, doctor of osteopathic medicine at the Faint & Fall Clinic, Division of Geriatrics, at the University of Utah. “A person develops a fear of falling. Because of this fear, they begin to restrict their activity. Unfortunately, this just makes the problem worse because the activity restriction leads to deconditioning. Then, when they do stand up and walk, they are weak and their balance is poor . . . this unsteadiness along with other factors can actually cause a fall. Then, of course, we’re back to square one.”
Often, adds Sanders, the initial deconditioning occurs after hospitalization for an unrelated problem, such as pneumonia. In the hospital, the patient becomes weaker, which increases their risk of falling, then the cycle begins again.
How to Overcome Your Fear
The aforementioned cycle is hard to break. Doing so, requires us to face our fears and determine how much of our fear is real and how much is overblown. Start by asking your doctor for help. Although more than one out of four older people falls each year, fewer than half tell their doctor. Opening up and having a conversation with your doctor about a fall could save your life.
If your risks are high (perhaps you take prescription medications that affects your balance, strength and gait), then you and your doctor should come up with a plan to reduce those risks. If your risks are low (you exercise regularly, strength train and take few, if any medications) take some preventative measures, but continue to live your life.
If that’s not enough to put a fear of falling to rest, talk to your physician about having a home health nurse, occupational or physical therapist brainstorm ways you can reduce your risks and manage your fear of falling.
Originally posted on the Lifetime Daily blog.
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