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Don't let the fear of falling stop you

Sheelah Woodhouse

PT, BScPT, Vestibular Physiotherapist

Tuesday, Sep. 14, 2021
 
a man taking off his glasses, rubbing his eyes due to dizziness.

Note: The suggestions in this post are not intended to replace the advice of a clinician. If you are unsure about them, please check with your therapist.

Has a fear of falling made you turn down a golfing trip or that walk your friends invited you on? Maybe you try not to leave the house unless absolutely necessary because you just don’t trust your balance enough.

If this sounds like you, take comfort in knowing you are not alone. 34% of Canadians over the age of 65 report a fear of falling with 44% of those individuals reporting that they limit the activities they enjoy.

But, the fear of falling can actually increase your risk of falling! To understand why, let’s take a quick look at balance.

What exactly is balance?

Your brain receives information from:

  • Vision
  • Receptors in your body that sense your position in space (proprioception)
  • A fluid filled organ in each inner ear (vestibular system)

This information is then used to activate the appropriate combination of muscles to maintain your balance in different situations. If one of these information sources isn’t working very well, then your brain adapts to rely more heavily on the other two, but this often isn’t sufficient to feel fully confident when walking in busy/darkened environments or on uneven ground.

But your brain needs constant practice in order to understand and use this information correctly. By limiting and avoiding activities, you’re depriving your brain of experience and it will be less prepared to stop you from falling when required. Let’s not forget that activity avoidance/limitation can lead to weak muscles and slower reaction time that are needed to stay upright!

It’s never too late to build back your balance

Conquering your fear of falling is not always a quick fix. Fall risk is a real concern, and there may be many other factors or conditions that are contributing to your fear of falling. By starting small, slow and safely progressing over time, you can begin to get back your confidence by giving your brain practice and building strength. This will allow you to start doing those activities you have been avoiding - because life’s too short to stop doing the things you love.

Below are some suggestions of exercises to start you off on your journey. Just makes sure to do these with someone watching you closely, or stand with your hands draped inside your kitchen sink, almost touching, to grab onto if needed to keep you safe!

  • Stand with feet together and eyes closed for 30 seconds – see if you can do this throughout the day for a total of 5 minutes. If this is too challenging, keep feet apart.
     
  • Stand on one foot with eyes open for 30 seconds on each leg – see if you can do this on each leg 3 x every day.
     
  • Tai chi – Mounting evidence is showing that taking up tai chi reduces fall risk and fear of falling.

If you're interested in treatment, visit our Dizziness & Balance/Vestibular Therapists for an in-depth fall risk assessment. We can create a customized plan to improve your strength, balance, and conditioning to reduce your fall risk. For more information, visit our dizziness and balance page or book an appointment online.

This blog was written by Eddie Ludlow, a Physiotherapy student at the University of Toronto. 

Sheelah Woodhouse

PT, BScPT, Vestibular Physiotherapist

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