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Fear Increases Risk of Falling in Elderly

Fear Increases Risk of Falling in Elderly


Roberta Newton, professor of physical therapy at Temple's College of Health Professions, found that this fear was linked to lower self-confidence and poorer balance and stability.

"The more we understand what causes fear of falling, the better equipped we are to prevent falls,” said Newton. Falls are not only disabling but potentially deadly, with wrist and hip fractures and head trauma leading the list of injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every hour, fall-related injuries send 183 older adults to the emergency room and one of those individuals die as a result of the fall.

The study consisted of 204 older adults who were discharged from the emergency department for a fall. The average age of the participants, who were primarily African-American (89 percent) and female (75 percent), was 76 years. Newton measured sociodemographics, activities of daily living, physical activities, balance, mobility, endurance and stability. She found that for those who have fallen, either at home or in a nursing home, fear can be as high as 75 percent.

Fear of falling occurs in both individuals who have fallen and those who have not fallen and can lead both older adults and caretakers to unnecessarily restrict activity. Decreased physical activity saps strength and stability leaving people more vulnerable to falling. While researchers aren't certain what comes first, the fear or the physical inactivity, they are confident that the two are interrelated.

"It's important for us to recognize that older adults might be afraid of falling and just like with falls, they are reluctant to report this because they don't want to lose their independence,” said Newton.

She suggests enjoyable physical activities which can help both in preventing falls and also in reducing fear of falling. Newton has developed numerous tests to analyze falling risk as well as interventions to prevent falls.

- The Temple University College of Health Professions' website can be found at:


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