Brian E. Maki, PhD, PEng
Professor, Department of Surgery
and the Institute of Medical Science,
University of Toronto; and Senior Scientist,
Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre
Hip fractures and other physical consequences of falls in older adults have received a great deal of attention, both in the scientific literature and the popular press. It is only recently, however, that the psychosocial consequences of falling, such as fear of falling, have begun to receive due recognition. The injuries due to falls may well prove to be the "tip of the iceberg", with the psychosocial sequelae incurring even greater societal costs.
Murphy and Isaacs1 first described the "post-fall syndrome" as an extreme fear of falling, characterized by a tendency to stagger, to clutch at objects, and to show hesitancy or alarm when asked to walk without assistance. Some researchers believe that such an anxiety syndrome can be viewed as a classic phobia, and in fact have coined the phrase "ptophobia" to refer to a phobic reaction to standing or walking.2 While such a severe reaction may be relatively uncommon, a more moderate fear of falling is very widespread among older adults, with reported prevalence ranging from 20-60%.3,4 The prevalence increases with age and is reportedly more common among women.4 One should note, however, that a gender-related bias in the willingness to report fear could confound the latter finding.