Fear of falling (FOF) is a risk factor for falls.1 FOF is relatively common among the older adult population with 56.7% of older adults reported being fearful of falling according to one study.1 In addition to increased risk of falling, FOF is associated with negative physical and psychosocial health outcomes.1 FOF can occur when an older adult has a history of falling or has balance problems with dynamic activities such as walking. Falling or a close call with falling can cause FOF which commonly leads to an older adult slowly decreasing their physical activity. Low physical activity or being sedentary is another risk factor for falls.2 Inactivity, falling, and fear of falling is a dangerous cycle that is difficult for an older adult to change. Good news! Physical therapy interventions such as exercise and education can reduce your risk of falls. Here are some of the ways your physical therapist may lessen your FOF.
- Assess Your Risk of Falling: Physical therapists have a large toolbox of valid and reliable measures that can assess an individual’s risk of falling. Most of these assessments include age-related norms where your scores can be compared to other individuals in your age group. Physical therapists are trained extensively to evaluate these measures to determine any impairments that are causing your increased risk of falling.
- Lower Extremity Strengthening: One of the potential impairments that could increase your risk of falling is lack of strength and power in your thighs, legs, and ankles. These muscles are necessary to allow you to climb the stairs, walk on uneven terrain, and rise from a chair. Most likely your physical therapist will a create an individualized home exercise program with exercises designed to meet your individual needs.
- Balance Challenges: Sensation and vestibular function are a part of your balance system. When these systems are impaired, then your risk of falling increases. You may feel unsteady on your feet, dizziness when turning your head, or even catching yourself looking at your feet when walking. Your physical therapist may re-train your balance system through decreasing your base of support or having your walk or stand on unstable surface to challenge your balance. The idea with this type of re-training is that your balance system will be able to adapt and remain steady in real life situations such as walking outside or in your community.
- Endurance Training: Self-reported or perceived fatigue is associated with the incidence of falls or risk of falling among the elderly.3 With increased physical effort such as walking long distances or ambulating up and downstairs, some individuals may feel fatigued, short of breath, or even lightheaded. All these symptoms could increase an individual’s risk of falling. Your physical therapist may recommend an assistive device for walking community distances or initiate a walking program that could slowly build up your endurance over time.
- Education on Fall Risk Factors: There are countless risk factors that could increase your risk of falling as well as your fear of falling. Number of medications, physical mobility and activity tolerance, health status, fear of falling, and so much more are all a part of the larger picture of fall prevention. Home hazards are an easy modification to make to prevent falls. Your physical or occupational therapist may recommend removing clutter, improving lighting, installing grab bars around the toilet and shower or walk-in bathtub, removing a curb from the shower, or using a transfer bench or shower chair.4 At Live Your Life we come to you which includes your home. Our physical and occupational therapist would be happy to assess your home for any potential fall hazards and make recommendations to optimize your living environment.
Do you have a history of falling? Do you feel off balance? Difficulties walking? Or are you scared of falling in the future? If you identify with any of these statements, then it may be time to see your physical therapist for an evaluation of your movement. Live Your Life physical therapists would love to help you improve your overall functioning and participation in the all the activities you love. Contact us today for a free consultation!
1Lee S, Oh E, Hong GS. Comparison of Factors Associated with Fear of Falling between Older Adults with and without a Fall History. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(5):982. Published 2018 May 14. doi:10.3390/ijerph15050982
2Blog HG. Physical Activity Reduces Your Risk for Falls > Health in Aging Blog > Health in Aging. Published November 25, 2020. Accessed October 21, 2023. https://www.healthinaging.org/blog/physical-activity-reduces-your-risk-for-falls/#:~:text=Researchers%20have%20shown%20that%20higher
3Pana A, Sourtzi P, Kalokairinou A, Pastroudis A, Chatzopoulos ST, Velonaki VS. Association between self-reported or perceived fatigue and falls among older people: A systematic review. International Journal of Orthopaedic and Trauma Nursing. 2021;43:100867. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijotn.2021.100867
4The National Council on Aging. www.ncoa.org. https://www.ncoa.org/article/home-modification-tools-and-tips-to-help-prevent-falls