Fear of falling is common in older people and can lead to physical decline and disability, and it actually increases the risk of falls. In fact, this fear is thought to impact between 26 percent and 55 percent of older adults.

A recent study in JAMDA detailed how identifiable factors, such as the use of a walking aid or depressive symptoms, could help determine specific preventive strategies for fear of falling. The authors found that older age, walking aid use, and a higher burden of depressive symptoms at baseline were predictors of fear of falling in older adults.

Individuals with fear of falling also tended to have worse performance on balance and physical function tests and a higher comorbidity burden. They also were taking more antihypertensives, tricyclic antidepressants, and sleeping aids. The authors concluded that by identifying people at greatest risk of fear of falls, it is possible to identify those who could benefit the most from interventions to increase fall-related self-sufficiency.

Consider a few steps to addressing fear of falling among older adults:
• Focus on increasing confidence. Help residents gain confidence in their ability to ambulate safely with classes or activities designed to improve balance and increase strength. Talk to residents about their fears and help them understand how exercise and activity will actually help keep them safer.
• Create a safe home environment. Work with the resident and family members to keep the person’s room or apartment free of obstacles and hazards.
• Mark steps with bright tape.
• Make sure there are handrails and grab bars in key locations and that they are easy to grasp.
• Make sure the resident’s vision is checked regularly and that they have glasses with an accurate prescription.
• Encourage shoes and clothing with safety in mind. This means low heels, non-skid soles, and shoelaces that don’t hang down and present a tripping hazard. Avoid long skirts, wide-legged pants, belts or scarfs that hang.
• Consider the benefit of a walker, cane, or other aid. If the resident is resistant, explain how this may increase their confidence as they gain strength and feel more confident.