The risk of falling increases with age, so most seniors have at least mild concerns about falls. Sometimes, though, the fear of falling becomes so extreme that it interferes with your quality of life. Severe anxiety about falling can even cause depression, which further impacts your health.
If you or a loved one is experiencing the effects of aging, you should understand the connection between a fear of falls and depression. By recognizing this link, you can put measures in place to reduce your risk of both physical and mental health issues.
The Link Between Fear of Falling and Depression
Falls can be absolutely devastating for seniors, so a fear of falling is a completely normal and understandable experience. In many cases, falls in older adults lead to serious injuries, hospitalization, and long-term health problems. If you’ve noticed any decline in your coordination or mobility, you might feel anxious about the possibility of falling.
While fears of falling are perfectly valid, severe anxiety about falling can also be damaging to your mental health. When older adults are extremely worried about a fall, they may choose to stay home and stay put instead of living an active lifestyle. However, this isolation can quickly lead to depression. By declining to participate in activities, hobbies, and social events, you miss out on some of the most important elements of mental and emotional health. Even the most introverted people need to connect with others, but a severe fear of falling can stop you from leaving the house.
The underlying feelings of helplessness caused by a decrease in mobility can also be very painful. Acknowledging any degree of physical decline could lead to feelings of grief, hopelessness, guilt, or anger. You might feel uncomfortable leaving home or participating in activities without a loved one nearby for support, but this loss of independence is a major emotional obstacle for many seniors.
These emotional challenges are especially common among seniors who have actually experienced falls. Depression and anxiety are both key factors in post-fall syndrome, a condition that sometimes develops in older adults after falling. Post-fall syndrome is characterized by extreme anxiety around standing and walking to the point that quality of life is greatly reduced. A fall can be an incredibly traumatic experience, and an individual can become so concerned at the thought of another accident that they hesitate to move at all.
Unfortunately, depression from a fear of falling can ultimately increase your risk of falling. Seniors struggling with depression often see an even steeper decline in their physical health because the mental health condition causes a lack of motivation and a loss of interest. When your activity level decreases, you may see a decline in balance, coordination, strength, and flexibility. Although moving around can seem frightening when you have a fear of falling, safely exercising is one of the best ways to maintain your physical health and reduce your risk of a fall.
Sometimes, depression leads to substance abuse in older adults. If you’re struggling with severe mental health symptoms, you might turn to drugs or alcohol to distract yourself from the emotional pain. Being under the influence greatly increases your risk of falling, though, so you may see your independence decline even further. If you struggle with substance use as a result of depression, you may become trapped in a vicious cycle of decreasing independence.
In some cases, the treatment for depression can also increase the risk of falling. Antidepressant use may cause loss of balance and is associated with falls in older adults. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid antidepressants if your healthcare providers believe this is the best way to manage your mental health. However, you must be especially careful of the side effects.
Treating Depression Caused by Fear of Falling
Depression is a complicated and challenging mental health condition, but it is treatable. For many seniors, the key to overcoming the disorder is tackling the underlying fear of falling that has caused the mental health symptoms.
With the help of your doctor, you could follow an exercise regimen that improves your balance and agility. When you feel more confident in your ability to physically navigate your environment, your fear of falling may decrease. Stretching, yoga, tai chi, and other exercises are particularly popular for improving coordination, balance, and flexibility.
You could also adjust your home to become more accessible and easy to navigate. For example, if you’re anxious about falling while getting in or out of the shower, you could install grab bars. Converting a bathtub to a walk-in shower can help to put your mind at ease, too. If you’re concerned about falling on the stairs, you could place non-strip slips on each step. These home modifications can be expensive, but some funding may be available to you through Medicaid or through state or local assistance programs.
Addressing the physical aspects of your fear of falling may not be enough to overcome the issue, though. Depression and anxiety are mental health conditions, so it’s important to explore the underlying emotions. Sometimes, a fear of falling is just one piece of the puzzle. Many seniors struggle with the overall loss of mobility and independence that comes with the aging process.
Counseling is a valuable resource for older adults who are trying to come to terms with the effects of aging. In therapy, you can explore your emotions and identify the root causes of your depression and anxiety. Then, you and your counselor can create a plan to address these symptoms. Your therapist can help you analyze your thoughts and beliefs to figure out which thinking patterns are helpful and which are not. Over time, you can begin to let go of the unhealthy thoughts and instead embrace the positive beliefs that promote your health and wellness.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides therapy for older adults who are experiencing depression, fear of falling, post-fall syndrome, and other concerns. Our licensed counselors understand how the aging process can affect mental health and how to best address mental health concerns in seniors. If you or an aging loved one is interested in therapy, contact us today.