Depression and the Fear of Falling

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Depression in seniors found to be linked to performance in fall prevention programs.
Posted On: May 06, 2015
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Falls are a leading cause of hospitalization for seniors, but exercise and balance training can help reduce the risk.

Falling is a major problem for the aging population: older individuals are more likely to fall and the consequences of falling become more severe with age. Those who fall can potentially develop a fear of falling, and this can lead them to reduce their engagement in daily activities, resulting in social isolation, loss of physical fitness and a reduced quality of life. Falls prevention programs (FPP), including those offered by Toronto Rehab, commonly use balance training, low-intensity exercise and attention to risk factors to reduce the risk of falls and to manage the fear of falling.

Depression is closely linked to this phenomenon—depressed individuals are more likely to experience a stronger fear of falling, although it is not clear whether this fear and the associated impacts on activities and social isolation contributes to causing the depression, or whether depression increases the fear of falling. A study by TGHRI Senior Scientist and TRI Affiliate Scientist Dr. Alastair Flint has highlighted depression as an aspect of this emotion that can be helped through FPPs. Study participants in FPPs at UHN and Sunnybrook who experienced an improvement in their depression also had the greatest reduction in their fear of falling, in part because they had the most room for improvement.

"Based on the results of this study, interventions that target depression and falls together would be useful additions to a FPP," concludes Dr. Flint.

This work was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the UHN Department of Psychiatry Research Fund and the Toronto Rehab Foundation.

Depression and outcome of fear of falling in a falls prevention program. Iaboni A, Banez C, Lam R, Jones SA, Maki BE, Liu BA, Flint AJ. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2015 Feb 16. [Pubmed abstract]