Isolation, depression and the fear of falling in the elderly population

The fear of falling can have a significant impact on the quality of life of the elderly population. In Canada, the prevalence of fear of falling is over 24% in men over 65 years old and over 42% for women in the same category of age. In addition, 43% of men and 45% of women voluntary restricted their activities after a fall. In Quebec, 31% of the population over 65 are preoccupied with fear of falls whether they have fallen or not.


The fear of falling is linked with a decrease in physical activity and social engagements which lead to further physical decline, deconditioning, depression, social isolation and feelings of helplessness. Experiencing a fall in the past 12 months was associated with higher social exclusions and increased loneliness. Also, it has been determined that social isolation alone is a factor in the prediction of falls in older adults. Individuals who fear falls may also change their gait in ways that could increase the risk of falls. All of this stresses the importance of preventing falls as it may help to prevent loneliness and social exclusion.


There are many ways to overcome the fear of falling. One option is… physical activity! Another option could be integrated exposure therapy.


Physical activity is:

  • a protective factor for noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer.

  • associated with improved mental health

  • associated with delay in the onset of dementia

  • associated with improved quality of life and wellbeing

  • associated with improved quality of sleep, even with light physical activity.


There are many associations and programs that aim to prevent falls such as “STRIVE: we prevent falls” and “STAND UP!”.


Breaking social isolation


Factors that increase the risk of becoming socially isolated include living alone, having no contact with family, lack of awareness or access to community services and programs, life transitions and even the current COVID-19 pandemic!


There are several ways to break the social isolation cycle:

  • Schedule zoom sessions or phone calls with your loved ones and talk about topics/subjects that interest you.

  • Stay active: go for walks, sign up in exercise sessions that can be done from home and encourage your friends to sign up too!

  • Join programs and associations that are available for the elderly population. For instance, Réseau FADOQ is the largest seniors network in Canada that brings together people age 50 and over, and whose goal is to maintain and improve the quality of life. Many programs were adapted to the current pandemic situation and you can participate in various activities with other people from the comfort of your home!

  • Adopt a pet if you are able to take care of it. Caring for the pet will bring you happiness and satisfaction in a way that is similar to volunteering. A family member could also help you with the vet appointments.

  • NEVER isolate yourself when you’re feeling lonely. Try to always reach out to friends and/or family.


And of course, don’t forget take care of yourself:

  • Don’t skip meals.

  • Eat lots of vegetables and fruits

  • Engage in physical activity every day and walk regularly

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about sides effects of your medications

  • Don’t be ashamed to use safety aids – they will keep you safe and active!

  • In addition to taking care of your physical health, don’t forget to take care of your mental health. It is equally important that you talk to your doctor about your mental health, especially if you’ve been feeling depressed or noticed recent changes in your behaviour.


Take ACTION to prevent falls and to stay healthy!


You can find more information and resources here:

  1. https://www.canada.ca/en/national-seniors-council/programs/publications-reports/2014/social-isolation-seniors/page05.html

  2. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/aging-seniors/publications/publications-general-public/you-prevent-falls.html#facts


References:


Fournier, C., Lecours, C.,& Gagné, M. (2012, November 13). Les chutes chez les personnes âgées de 65 ans et plus vivant à domicile au Québec - Ce que révèle l’Enquête sur la santé dans les collectivités canadiennes,Vieillissement en santé 2008-2009. Retrieved January 2, 2021, from https://bdso.gouv.qc.ca/docs-ken/multimedia/PB01671FR_Zoomsante39_pers_age2012H00F00.pdf


Pohl, J. S., Cochrane, B. B., Schepp, K. G., & Woods, N. F. (2018). Falls and Social Isolation of Older Adults in the National Health and Aging Trends Study. Research in gerontological nursing, 11(2), 61–70. https://doi.org/10.3928/19404921-20180216-02


Hajek, A., & König, H. H. (2017). The association of falls with loneliness and social exclusion: evidence from the DEAS German Ageing Survey. BMC geriatrics, 17(1), 204. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12877-017-0602-5


Wetherell, J. L., Bower, E. S., Johnson, K., Chang, D. G., Ward, S. R., & Petkus, A. J. (2018). Integrated Exposure Therapy and Exercise Reduces Fear of Falling and Avoidance in Older Adults: A Randomized Pilot Study. The American journal of geriatric psychiatry : official journal of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, 26(8), 849–859. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jagp.2018.04.001


Langhammer, B., Bergland, A., & Rydwik, E. (2018). The Importance of Physical Activity Exercise among Older People. BioMed research international, 2018, 7856823. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/7856823


Vanderlinden, J., Biddle, G., Boen, F., & van Uffelen, J. (2020). Are Reallocations between Sedentary Behaviour and Physical Activity Associated with Better Sleep in Adults Aged 55+ Years? An Isotemporal Substitution Analysis. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(24), 9579. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17249579


Cor Maximus. (n.d). STAND UP – A FALL PREVENTION PROGRAM FOR SENIORS. Retrieved January 2, 2021, from https://cormaximus.com/fitness-services/stand-up-a-fall-prevention-program-for-seniors/


Government of Canada. (2016, July 20). Report on the Social Isolation of Seniors. Retrieved January 2, 2021, from https://www.canada.ca/en/national-seniors-council/programs/publications-reports/2014/social-isolation-seniors/page05.html


Government of Canada (2016, April 28). You CAN Prevent Falls! Retrieved January 2, 2021, from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/aging-seniors/publications/publications-general-public/you-prevent-falls.html#facts


American Academy of Family Physicians. (2020, July 29). Talking to Your Doctor About Your Mental Health. Retrieved January 2, 2021, from https://familydoctor.org/talking-to-your-doctor-about-your-mental-health/


Réseau FADOQ. (n.d). About Réseau FADOQ. Retrieved January 2, 2021, from https://www.fadoq.ca/en/reseau/about-us/about-reseau-fadoq


Brunet. (n.d). Loneliness among the elderly: preventing isolation. Retrieved January 2, 2021, from https://www.brunet.ca/en/health/health-tips/loneliness-among-the-elderly-preventing-isolation/

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