Effects of Falling on Seniors’ Mental Health

a person consoling an elderly person

When a senior suffers a fall, there can be glaring consequences: fractured bones or head injuries that can lead to hospitalizations and surgeries. A rehabilitation process that can be grueling and painful. In a worst-case scenario, a fall can lead to death.

While the physical effects from a fall are clear, there are also less obvious outcomes of a fall, outcomes that can also have a serious impact on the lives of seniors.

Fear, isolation, depression, and an unwillingness to engage in activities can all be realities for a senior who is afraid of falling.

The mental health effects falling can have are significant and along with the physical injuries, combine to make it vital that seniors and their loved ones be aware of the risk factors for falling.

Health Factors Lead to Mental Health Concerns

For seniors who live alone, the prospect of falling isn’t just the possible injuries – it’s that they may not be able to get themselves back up.

From the age of 30 onwards we begin to lose 3-5% of our muscle mass each decade. By the time someone is in their senior years, that deterioration means it may be impossible for some people to hoist themselves back up after a fall, particularly if they’ve also suffered an injury.

If that’s the case, after a fall they may be in a position of trying for hours, or even longer, to get someone’s attention for help or attempting to get to a phone to call 911.

It’s a traumatic experience no one would want to live through a second time, which leads to seniors withdrawing from activities and social life that can be fulfilling, out of a concern for falling again. In fact, according to the website sciencedaily.com, many seniors who have fallen go on to exhibit symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Fear Takes Over

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falling once doubles the chances of an older adult falling again.

However, withdrawing from activities has a two-pronged effect. For one, that unwillingness to engage leads to isolation and depression. If someone feels like they have to give up their passions or hobbies, it can cause tremendous stress and anxiety.

Physically, that withdrawal is also problematic – by remaining sedentary it means their muscles continue to weaken, thus creating a vicious cycle where muscles that are further diminished could then cause another fall when the person does rise. 

Seniors Already Susceptible to Mental Health Issues

The emotional effects of falling can exacerbate existing concerns in seniors, a demographic already at risk of dealing with mental health concerns.

Seniors already face higher rates of mental health issues than the rest of the population; according to Mental Health America (MHA), a nonprofit dedicated to helping people live mentally healthier lives, “Symptoms of clinical depression can be triggered by other chronic illnesses common in later life, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, cancer and arthritis.”

In addition to health issues, seniors often lose a spouse and friends as they age, and the loneliness and isolation that can come with those losses can cause depression to grow and worsen. Combine those pre-existing risk factors with either the after-effects or the fear of a fall and it can become too much for some to bear.

And despite those additional physical and emotional risk factors for depression among seniors, that demographic in many ways is the least prepared to address them: the MHA reports that 68% of adults aged 65 and over know little or almost nothing about depression, and only 42% would seek help from a health professional if they were suffering from depression or a mental health concern.

How Exercise Can Help

Many falls occur because of the natural deterioration of muscle mass in our bodies as we age. One way for older adults to mitigate that risk is with exercise, and Prestige Senior Living’s fitness programming helps residents build and maintain strength to help reduce falls.

The benefits of fitness are more than physical though – exercise can be as important for mental health as it is for physical health.

Engaging in a regular fitness routine has a wide array of valuable outcomes for older adults. At Prestige, our programs are tailored for residents of any ability level – even if someone needs to sit to perform the exercise, we accommodate their needs. The important thing is that they’re taking part and enjoying the physical and mental health benefits that come from regular fitness.

It can be especially helpful in our communities as we conduct classes in group settings, adding a social element to help foster friendships and camaraderie.

Prestige’s Fall Reduction Programs

While the information on the mental and physical effects of falling seem frightening, this has not been meant as a scare tactic. But it is vital to understand the risk factors facing seniors when it comes to falling as well as knowing that there are ways to help prevent or reduce falls. Seniors can still enjoy all that life has to offer with the right precautions and knowledge.

At Prestige, we are partners in active aging with our residents. All residents take a physical assessment upon moving into a Prestige community, and then are directed into appropriate fitness classes, which can help reduce falls. We also engage our residents in a wide variety of activities to keep them active and engaged. And if a Prestige resident does fall, help is never far away.

Our team is also trained to spot signs of mental health concerns in seniors, and then direct them to resources for assistance if needed.If the time is right to consider senior living, find the community nearest you for more information.