The Link Between Mobility and Confidence in Seniors
For seniors to be able to live at home as long as possible, functional mobility is essential. Each year, one in three seniors over the age of 65 experience a fall. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), this results in 2.8 million older people being treated in emergency departments due to fall injuries. About 95% of hip fractures are the outcome of falls. While the injuries and fractures may heal, the elder’s confidence levels may be destroyed.
After experiencing a fall, many seniors experience a decline in mobility. While the physical injury of the fall can be the cause of this, in many cases, the shattered confidence is the reason.
Fear of falling and balance confidence
There are many older adults that are afraid of falling. When compared with other common fears, the fear of falling is ranked first among elderly people living in the community. More than half of these seniors over the age of 62 report a fear of falling. This fear of falling is not limited to just those that have experienced a fall; 27% of elders over the age of 75 who had not fallen, admitted to having a fear of falling.
The impact of this fear leads to activity restriction, with 56% of older adults restricting their activities due to being afraid of falling. This means that these seniors will be less likely to participate in events such as walking, shopping or taking part in social affairs. This can result in depression, feelings of helplessness, social isolation, and ultimately, further physical decline.
Assessing balance confidence
Research has shown that this fear of falling is very closely related to balance confidence. Balance confidence is the extent to which a person believes he or she is able to participate in specific activities without falling. There are two different tools to measure balance confidence.
The Falls Efficacy Scale (FES) and the Activities-specific Balance Confidence (ABC) Scale are two of the measurement scales that were developed to try and evaluate the confidence of balance in elders. These scales differ slightly in that the FES measures falls-related self-efficacy (an individual’s belief in their capacity to perform and reach a goal), while the ABS scale measures an individual’s balance confidence.
Falls Efficacy Scale (FES)
The FES is a 10-item questionnaire that rates an individual’s confidence in performing and completing common activities. Some of these activities include taking a bath or shower, getting in or out of bed, and getting in or out of a chair. Each item is rated on a ten-point scale, 1 being ‘extreme confidence’, and 10 being ‘no confidence’ at all. All points are summed to get a total score. A score of 70 or higher indicates that an individual has a fear of falling.
Activities-specific Balance Confidence (ABC) Scale
The ABC Scale is a 16-item questionnaire that rates an individual’s confidence in performing situation-specific tasks without losing balance or becoming unsteady. Each item is scored from 0%-100%, with 0% indicating no confidence and 100% indicating full confidence to perform the task without losing balance. The percentages are added then divided by 16 to get a percentage of self-confidence.
Confidence and mobility
Studies have shown that older adults that have higher balance confidence perform better in balance and mobility tests. Even when tested with participants with equivalent physical abilities, individuals with higher balance confidence performed better at the actual tasks.
This indicates that lack of balance confidence is an issue that can keep seniors from regaining mobility and independence. By helping your loved one build their confidence, you may help them regain mobility and independence after a fall.
Rebuilding confidence after a fall
There are many different ways that you can help your elder loved one rebuild their confidence after a fall. By helping him or her regain this confidence, you will be helping them increase mobility, independence and even live longer.
Increase physical activity
Physical activity and healthy lifestyle changes can improve balance confidence. Exercise will also help improve flexibility, endurance, strength and balance, which will make it less likely for the senior to experience a fall.
Medical Alert System
Medical alert systems, or help button devices, are very useful, especially for elder adults that live on their own. These systems put the individual in touch with either a family member or emergency medical teams in a matter of seconds just by pushing a button. Knowing that they have this sort of support may help an older person feel more confident.
Other things that you can do to help build confidence and prevent falls include removing hazards in the home such as clutter or adding aids such as railings, grab bars. Don't forget about adding fall prevention features in the bathroom! Bright lighting will help the senior feel more confident in their ability to move around the home without fear of falling.
Though an elder person may not gain back the full mobility they had before a fall, helping build their confidence will help them gain back some mobility function, independence and lead a happier life.