Physical Function and Health Status among Seniors with and without a Fear of FallingBrouwer B. · Musselman K. · Culham E.
Motor Performance Laboratory, School of Rehabilitation Therapy, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ont., Canada
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Background: Fear of falling (FF) is pervasive among older people and is an independent risk factor for decreased mobility and loss of quality of life. Although it is a serious health concern, little is known about the severity of the physical and health-related deficits in high-functioning fearful seniors. Objective: This study examined the physical correlates of FF in community-dwelling seniors in relation to their non-fearful counterparts and also explored the relevance of recent fall history. Subjects: Twenty-five volunteers who stated that they had curtailed their activities due to a FF and who reported themselves to be healthy participated. Non-fearful, age- and gender-matched subjects were also recruited and served as a comparison group. Methods: This cross-sectional study had participants come to the laboratory on one occasion for about 1.5 h. Limits of balance stability, walking speed, and lower limb muscle strength were measured in random order. In addition, the SF-36, the Activities-specific Balance Confidence (ABC) scale and the Human Activity Profile questionnaires were completed to provide measures of heath status, FF and activity levels, respectively. Results: Subjects with a FF had lower ABC scores (69.8 ± 10.2) than controls (90.2 ± 7.9; p < 0.001), and although they reported activity curtailment, the groups presented similar activity profiles (p > 0.05). Balance ability was not compromised in seniors with a FF, although their walking speed was slower than that of control subjects (p < 0.004). Lower limb weakness was significant in the FF group, which also reported low physical health. Perceived physical health, activity and hip flexor torque in combination accounted for almost 62% of the variance in ABC scores. Secondary analysis of the data from the FF group revealed a tendency for those who had fallen in the past year to restrict their limits of stability compared to those who had not fallen; though generally the effect sizes were small to moderate. Conclusions: The marked deficits in strength and health status found among seniors living independently in the community, who are in good health, but report being fearful of falling underscores the seriousness of FF as a potential health risk factor in the well elderly.
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