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News Release - Queen's University researcher examines fear of falling and long term detrimental health effects in seniors

Monday, December 4, 2017

New research out of Queen’s University has shown a fear of falling can lead to function disability in seniors over the age of 65. High fear can lead to less mobility, isolation, a loss of independence, depression, and, eventually, the need to move into a care facility.

“Falling is a serious concern, but the fear of falling can also be serious and can rob seniors of the autonomy that keeps them active longer,” says lead research Mohammad Auais (School of Rehabilitation Therapy). “Once you fall, it tends to increase your fear of falling, and then that fear of falling can be associated with decreased mobility, decreased social participation, and isolation. It is also important to know that at least two out of 10 seniors overestimate their risk of falling so their fear of falling is not justified.”

Dr. Auais used international data collected over two years focusing on seniors aged 65 and older. The measured data was both self-reported and observed and included day-to-day activities such as walking upstairs or standing from chair. With this new data, he says he will next present the information to doctors, nurse practitioners, and the general public so people can start recognizing and intervening if someone has an unhealthy fear of falling.

He adds that due to a lack of awareness, a fear of falling is not a common target in rehabilitation programs despite the fact that behavior is modifiable.

“Fear of falling is prevalent among senior Canadians and - with the aging population - it is expected to be even more prevalent in the near future,” says Dr. Auais. “According to Statistics Canada, one out of three seniors aged 65 and older were concerned that they might fall in the future and this percentage increases with age.”

Close to one-half of seniors aged 85 years and older report fear of falling. Moving forward, Dr. Auais says the next steps in his research will include developing a screening process for those at risk and developing intervention strategies.

“Seniors need to address any true risk of falling (e.g. balance problem) and start to venture out before they become isolated and lose their independence. And the good news is that balance can improve with training. If weather permits and sidewalks are safe, head outside; otherwise find an indoor spot that works for you (e.g. shopping mall).”

The findings are part of the International Mobility in Aging Study. It’s an international collaboration featuring researchers from Albania, Brazil, Columbia, Quebec, and Kingston and led by Dr. Maria-Victoria Zunzunegui, from the University of Montreal.

The research was published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

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