Fear of falling in community-dwelling older adults: A cause of falls, a consequence, or both?

Background

Despite the number of studies that have tried to demonstrate that there is an association between previous falls and the fear of falling, the relationship between these two variables remains a matter of controversy.

Objectives

Our objective was to investigate whether the fear of falling is a cause of falls, a consequence, or both in community-dwelling adults aged ≥ 75 years old.

Methods

A descriptive, longitudinal, prospective study was performed. A total of 640 individuals were interviewed between 2009 and 2011. Sociodemographic data, health status, history of falls and fear of falling were assessed at baseline and at 24 months.

Results

The prevalence of falls at baseline was 25% as opposed to 35.2% at 24 months. The prevalence of the fear of falling was 41.5% at baseline. Logistic regression analysis showed a significant association between a history of falls and the fear of falling. Other factors associated with the fear of falling were female gender, comorbidity, depressive symptoms, and disability. In total, 41.7% of the subjects who had reported a fear of falling at baseline had suffered at least one fall 24 months later. Unadjusted Cox regression analysis revealed that the fear of falling was a risk factor for falls. According to the final model adjusted for other covariates, the only reliable predictor was female gender. The Cox model stratified by gender failed to show a crude association between fear of falling and falls.

Conclusion

A previous history of falls in the previous year was a good predictor of the fear of falling; but the fear of falling was a predictor of falls during follow-up only in the unadjusted model, pointing to strong gender turns out as an effect modifier of the association of FOF and subsequent falls. Nursing staff working in elderly care should not only routinely assess patients’ previous history of falls, but also evaluate their fear of falling and its associated factors.