FRIDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Older people who have a fear
of falling are at increased risk for future falls, regardless of
their actual risk of tumbling, a new study finds.
The report, published online Aug. 20 in the
BMJ, suggests that fall risk assessments should include measures of both actual and perceived fall risk for prevention purposes, according to the Australian and Belgian researchers.
The study included 500 people in Sydney, aged 70 to 90, who
underwent extensive medical and neuropsychological assessments. The
researchers estimated the participants' actual and perceived fall
risks and followed-up on them monthly for one year.
Both actual and perceived fall risk contribute independently to
a person's future risk of falling, the study authors concluded.
People with a high level of anxiety about falling are most likely
to suffer a fall.
Although most people had an accurate perception of their fall
risk, about one-third of the elders either underestimated or
overestimated their risk of falling, according to senior principal
research fellow Stephen Lord, of the Falls and Balance Research
Group, Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute at the University
of New South Wales, and colleagues.
The "anxious" group, for example, had a low actual fall risk but
viewed it as high -- something the researchers attributed to
neurotic personality traits, symptoms of depression and poor
physical functioning. The "stoic" group, on the other hand, had a
high actual fall risk but viewed it as low, an attitude that the
researchers associated with physical activity, a positive outlook
on life and community participation. The perception of a low fall
risk actually helped protect the stoic group against falls, the
Working with elderly people to reduce their fear of falling
isn't likely to increase the risk of falls by making seniors overly
confident, Lord and colleagues noted.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about
seniors and falls.