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.