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Study: Fear of falling could lead to social isolation

December 12, 2012

Falls are one of the greatest health threats to seniors, but a fear of losing one's balance may be enough to cause some serious problems. A study recently published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science found that roughly half of seniors with vision problems are more socially isolated due to a fear of falling.

Researchers from the University of Montreal, Quebec, looked at nearly 350 patients and asked them to fill out a questionnaire and take an eye exam. The team found that 16 percent of seniors with no vision problems were less active due to a fear of falling. However, that figure jumped to between 40 and 50 percent for seniors with vision problems. The results could have a far-reaching impact on healthy aging, experts say.

"It is important to know more about which activities are being limited due to fear of falling. We can then develop and test interventions to help people feel more confident about their ability to safely do those activities," said Dr. Ellen E. Freeman. "If we could develop a brief, effective intervention focused on select activities, I would like to see it offered in the clinical setting."

Falls are a serious issue for many seniors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one-third of adults 65 and older experience a fall each year, and these spills are the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the senior population. However, there are steps older adults can take to help reduce their risk of falling and increase their confidence at the same time.

One of the best ways to reduce the risk of falls is to stay physically active, according to the Mayo Clinic. Gentle exercises, such as Tai Chi or yoga, can help improve balance and flexibility, the loss of which can often cause falls.

It's also important for seniors to consider their surroundings. Removing tripping hazards and creating debris-free paths can help increase confidence to walk around the home.