According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of elderly persons over 65 years old fall every year in the United States (CDC). In 2005 about 1.8 million older adults were treated in emergency rooms for nonfatal injuries from falls and more than 433,000 of these patients were hospitalized (CDC). In fact the leading cause of injury deaths in the elderly are a result of falls.
Due to this high prevalence of cases, it does not come as a surprise that falling is a major concern reported by elderly adults. According to a study published in Physical and Occupational Therapy in Geriatrics, older adults fear falling because of fear of social embarrassment, getting hurt, and fear of losing their independence. So while physical injury is major concern, many older adults also fear the psychological effects of falling. A fall can result in feeling of inadequacy and embarassment. This fear can also lead to avoidance of everyday activities in hopes of preventing a fall. This abandonment of everyday activities can affect the individual's quality of life and their feeling of independence.
So what, if anything, can be done about this fear of falling? Well for several years now occupational therapists have been working with elderly patients in programs designed to prevent falls. These occupational therapists address the patient’s fear of falling and ways that it could be prevented. According to the study, the most common fears regarding falls were fear of physical injury, the feeling of falling, becoming an invalid, losing one’s independence and being institutionalized, a long lie and being unable to reach someone once they have fallen, and being confined to a wheelchair or being unable to walk (ibid). This study could shed light to some of the assistive tools that occupational therapists could suggest to calm their client’s fears of falling and tools that could even help to prevent future falls.
One promising tool may in fact be a popular video game that many children play. According to the article Wii-habituation 'could prevent elderly from falls' published in CNN health, researchers at the University of Aberdeen in Sweden are studying to see if the popular video gaming system the Wii-fit can improve balance in elderly individuals.
If this does prove to be successful numerous occupational therapists could help develop treatment plans using the gaming system to help improve an elderly patient’s balance as well as confidence. Other assistive devices such as medical alarms are becoming popular. These alarms can be worn around the person’s neck and can allow the older adult to call for help with the touch of a button. This can help to calm the fear that many older adults have of falling and not being able to contact anyone. This can help to boost the older adult’s confidence and chance of getting medical assistance much faster in the case of a fall. Hopefully more can be done in this field to prevent the number of falls suffered from elderly adults.
CDC. Falls among older adults: An overview. Retrieved 28 February 2009, from http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html
Lorie, A. (2009). Wii-habilitation could prevent elderly from falls. Retrieved Febrauary 28, 2009, from http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/02/11/wii.fit.elderly/index.html
Tischer, L., Hobson, S. (2005). Fear of falling: A qualitative study among community-dwelling older adults. Physical and Occupational Therapy in Geriatrics, 23, 37-53.