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Elderly Man Fell

Regaining Confidence After a Fall

When you’re a kid and you fall off your bicycle, you’ll probably suffer nothing worse than skinned knees and palms.

When you’re older and playing rough-and-tumble sports, you expect to fall. No big deal.

But when you’re a senior and you fall accidentally, the stakes are much higher. Not only are our bones more fragile when we’re older, but falls can ultimately prove deadly with age.

Even if there are no injuries, however, the residual fear after a fall can linger for weeks or longer. And our primary care doctors in Delray Beach want to assure you that this phenomenon can happen at any age.

Mind games

Author Lawrence Block in his book on writing fiction, “Spider Spin Me a Web,” described just this situation. 

He was walking home from a coffee house, not watching his steps, when he tripped and fell, landing in the hospital with a forehead gash and a duck-egg-sized lump.

For several days afterward, he wrote, he found himself “thinking about walking.” When he approached a curb, “I couldn’t avoid figuring out exactly where I would place my foot, and how I would put weight on one foot before transferring it to the other.”

Eventually he eased back into walking naturally, but he was surprised at how the fall had affected his confidence.

“By being careful and deliberate about it, by not taking the process for granted, I was inescapably awkward,” he admitted.

He was in his early 40s at the time.

Writer Elizabeth Heath, 55, recently related a similar incident to The Washington Post.

Overconfident during a mountainous trek, she slipped and fell on a patch of frozen ground. While she escaped without serious injury (hitting her tailbone, cervical spine, and the back of her head), her confidence, too, was shattered.

“Since I took that tumble,” she said, “I find myself constantly thinking about falling again—while hiking on uneven terrain, walking on a loose gravel path, or just going down the stairs in my home.”

Getting your head right

We learn to walk as toddlers, and practice it unthinkingly the rest of our lives . . . until something like this happens.

But the important thing is to conquer the lingering fear that it will happen again. Otherwise, we can end up restricting our lives to a chair in the living room—or an assisted living facility.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, it’s estimated that between one-third to one-half of seniors are concerned enough about potential falls that they have begun to restrict or avoid activities that would be beneficial for their health.

AARP’s Senior Planet describes it this way: “When you are afraid of falling, you tend to limit your physical activity. That works for a while, but restricting activity leads to a loss of muscle strength, endurance, and mobility—three things that make you vulnerable to falling.”

The fear itself becomes debilitating, thus leading to further debilitation.

When people are afraid of falling, “they produce fewer eye movements to get the information they need when walking,” Will Young, PhD., explained to Senior Planet.

“Also, anxiety reduces their ability to remember things about their walking path,” added Young, a lecturer in rehabilitation psychology at Brunel University, London.

Get checked out

Experts say ignoring the fear without addressing the root causes can often make matters worse, especially if there’s a physical reason for the fall.

For example, certain medications may cause dizziness or lightheadedness, causing you to lose your balance. Or you may have inner-ear issues that can make you unsteady on your feet; low blood pressure is another cause of imbalance; poor vision can interfere with a confident gait; even loose or ill-fitting shoes can make you trip.

There could also be neurological, muscle, or other undetected medical issues causing you to fall.

So if you’ve fallen and are worried about falling again, start with us.

“A qualified health professional can determine whether the fear is due to an accurate estimation of your risk of falling or is excessive,” Thomas Hadjistavropoulos, the University of Regina Research Chair in Aging and Health,” told Senior Planet.

Make a plan

When you’re afraid, it’s easy to slide into a feeling of helplessness. But to regain your confidence, it helps to have a roadmap to better balance.

Exercise – If you’re not already doing strength-building exercises for your legs and buttocks, that’s a good place to begin (after checking with us). In addition, such exercise routines as yoga, tai chi, and the gentler qigong have all been shown to improve balance.

Watch your step – It’s important to keep tripping hazards out of your path. Pick up anything on the floor that you might trip over, including throw rugs. Make sure you have adequate lighting throughout the home, especially on stairs.

Utilize aids – By all means, if we’ve prescribed a cane or walker for you, be sure to use it. Have regular vision checkups, and check with a podiatrist to make sure you’re wearing proper-fitting shoes.

Get help – If you’re still so worried about falling that it’s restricting your usual activities, it might be time for some professional intervention to help you deal with your fears. A therapist can help you regain the confidence you need to lead a full life.

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