As much as the Stepping On program falls prevention program I participated in last year taught me, there is something that they never touched on. Not directly, anyway. My guess is, it isn't part of the official curriculum they must follow. I think this fear goes hand in hand with balance education, however.
That issue is fear.
Fear of falling.
At one of the first classes, the two instructors asked us "How many of you don't go out during the winter unless you absolutely have to?" More than half raised their hands. In upstate New York, winters are cold and harsh, with lots of ice and snow. We can get over 100 inches of snow (254 cm) in a year. If you don't go out, you are isolated.
But if you have to go out, there are icy sidewalks to deal with. We've all fallen on them.
I'm only in my 60's, and I am increasingly afraid of winter.
But it gets worse. Stepping On teaches strategies, with videos and discussions, of how to deal with various situations that result in balance challenges, and that is all good.
I refuse to accept that becoming fearful is a normal part of aging.
I know a senior much older than I am. She lives far from me, so I only see her a couple of times a year. She lives with someone, but still was somewhat independent. She had fallen several times, but had never hurt herself. She was petite, feisty, and mentally active.
"I bounce back up like a rubber ball", she said proudly to me, one day several years ago.
Until she didn't.
Until she broke her hip, falling in her bedroom.
One partial hip replacement later, she has many quality of life issues, but one of the worst is her fear of falling. She no longer has flexibility. She no longer has balance. She is terrified of having to leave her house because she might fall.
It shouldn't have to be like this, in your final years.
Experts tell us that fear of falling actually leads to an increased risk of falling. It doesn't sound right, but it does make sense. And there are ways of dealing with the fear.
It's great that our part of upstate New York has programs to help seniors with balance. Falling has become a major concentration of the medical community here, as we have a high population of seniors in our area.
But, I feel, it won't do much good without touching on the psychological issues. What good is teaching balance if people have already developed the fear? How about a class on dealing with that fear and learning to find ways to make it better?
We will see what the future brings for the seniors in our area. Hopefully, one day, being elderly will not be the same (in too many cases) as being afraid. And, I believe educational programs will be an important part of this.
If we can develop them.
Is there a program dealing with the direct fears of falling in the elderly in your area?