Falls in Older People? Anxiety Could Be A Cause

Posted by Dr. El - July 20, 2012 - Depression/Mental illness/Substance Abuse - No Comments

It was previously thought that seniors who are anxious about falling tend to avoid activities that could lead to falls, thus becoming de-conditioned and increasing fall risk.  New research, however, suggests that anxiety about falling itself can increase fall risk.  Hadjistavropoulos, T. et al. asked older adults to walk either in a low anxiety situation (on the floor) or a high anxiety situation (on an elevated platform).  Those who were more anxious (measured through heart rate, self-report, etc) had a less stable gait.  In addition, those who were multi-tasking by carrying a tray had a less stable gait.  The self-report of anxiety about walking was predictive of balance performance — in other words, if they said they were nervous about falling, they didn’t walk as well.

What does this mean for those of us working in LTC?

  • We might consider formally or informally assessing the anxiety level of residents regarding their ability to walk.
  • If residents appear anxious or report anxiety about falling, rehab therapists could discuss this with them or refer them for psychological services to address the issue.  I frequently talk with residents about the circumstances around their falls and ways to avoid a repeat of the mishap, helping them to feel more in control and reducing anxiety.
  • We can advise residents to focus on moving safely about their rooms (or homes upon discharge), rather than on carrying objects from one point to another.