Falling for the elderly is devastating and has many lasting consequences such as pain, injury, loss of independence, and costly medical bills. In fact, fifty percent of older adults who have fallen in the past year have a fear of falling. In 2005, 15,800 people 65 and older died from injuries related to unintentional falls.
A fear of falling, like most other fears is embarrassing. For this reason, many seniors do not share this fear with their families or doctors. Women are more likely to report a fear of falling, although men are more likely to die from falls.
The Impact of a Fear of Falling
A fear of falling can result in reduced activity. People who are afraid of falling may completely stop or modify how they do things. These individuals naturally walk more slowly, however are able to walk significantly faster when asked to do so. A consequence of reduced activity is weak muscles, which could lead to or exacerbate a fall.
People of all ages value their independence, but seniors seem to be the only age group at risk of losing their independence because of a fall. In 2009, the CDC reported that people 75 and older who fall are four to five times more likely to be admitted to a long-term care facility for a year or longer.
Muscles weakened due to inactivity compromise social interaction and increase the risk of isolation and depression. A fear of falling also increases the risk of falling, and causes depression, while depression and/or anxiety have disruptive affects on quality of life. There are also enormous financial costs associated with falling.
Financial Costs of Falling
Falls are expensive and make up a large component of health care costs. According to a 2009 report by the CDC, the total direct cost of all fall injuries for people 65 and older exceeded $19 billion in 2000. By 2020, the annual direct and indirect cost of fall injuries is expected to reach $54.9 billion (in 2007 dollars). The average cost of a fall for an older adult totaled $19,440, which included hospital, nursing home, emergency room, and home health care, but not doctors’ services. Furthermore, these costs did not include the long-term effects of falls such as dependence on others, lost time from work, household duties, and reduced quality of life.
Fall Prevention Programs
EnhanceFitness is an evidence-based group exercise program for older adults at all levels of fitness to help them become more active, energized, and empowered to sustain independent lives. EnhanceFitness focuses on endurance training, flexibility, balance, and strength training. Six months after the program participants exhibited 10-30% better physical, emotional, and social health scores.
FallProof is another fall prevention program that boosts balance and lowers the risk for falls. Older adults who complete the program demonstrate reduced fear-of-falling and higher physical activity levels. There are three different levels or classes to the program. Mobility I is for the older adult beginning to experience balance problems. The Mobility II program is for the senior who already has a history of falls and requires the use of walkers, wheelchairs and other aids. The third and newest addition to the FallProof program is a water based program. FallProof H2O uses the properties of water to work on balance and mobility. It is for the person who lacks the confidence in balance, or has chronic joint and limb pain.
Matter of Balance
The Matter of Balance program focuses on the fear of falling, and encourages consistent physical movement to reduce the likelihood of falling because of weak muscles. Participants learn to view falls and fear of falling as controllable, and set realistic goals for increasing activity. Participants also realize ways they can change their environments to reduce fall the risk of falling, and learn simple exercises to increase strength and balance.
Photo credit: Pnikosis
About the Author: Ryan Malone is the founder of InsideElder Care and author of the ByFamilies, For Families Guide to Assisted Living. He regularly speaks and advises families about how to improve their aging loved one’s quality of life. Ryan is also the president of SmartBug Media, a content marketing agency that helps companies increase leads, customers and influence. You can read more from Ryan on the SmartBug Media blog or follow him on Twitter.