Understanding the Influence of Fear of Falling on Clinical Balance Control - Efforts in Fall Prediction and Prevention
Hauck, Laura Jane
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Introduction: A review of the literature shows that standard clinical balance measures do not adequately predict fall risk in community-dwelling older individuals. There is significant evidence demonstrating the interactions of fear, anxiety, and confidence with the control of standing posture. Little is known however about the nature of this relationship under more challenging balance conditions, particularly in the elderly. The primary purpose of this work was to evaluate the relationship between fear of falling, clinical balance measures and fall-risk. Methods: Three studies were conducted evaluating the effects of postural threat (manipulated by support surface elevation) and/or cognitive loading (working memory secondary task) on clinical balance performance and task-specific psychological measures. Predictive and construct validity as well as test-retest reliability was evaluated for measures used to assess fear of falling and related psychological constructs . Results: Postural threat resulted in reduced balance confidence and perceived stability as well as increased state anxiety and fear of falling. These changes were significantly correlated to decrements in performance of clinical balance tasks. Neither standard clinical scales of balance and mobility nor generalized psychological measures, alone or in combination, could predict falls in community-dwelling elderly. However, combined scores on selected challenging clinical balance tasks could significantly predict falls. Furthermore, improved predictive precision resulted from having these tasks performed under combined postural threat and cognitive loading. Finally, the inclusion of task-specific psychological measures resulted in further improvements to predictive precision. Psychological measures demonstrated fair to excellent test-retest reliability in both healthy young and independent-living older individuals. Conclusions: Clinical balance tasks performed under more challenging conditions likely better reflect everyday experiences in which a fall is likely to occur. Incorporating easy-to-administer task-specific psychological evaluations and self-reported health estimates with clinical balance assessments might improve the likelihood of correctly identifying community-dwelling individuals at risk for falls. Improved estimates of fall-risk may lead to a reduction in the number of falls experienced in this population, thereby reducing the significant burden of fall-related hospitalizations, treatments and rehabilitation on the individual, families and health care system.