The fear of falling

A relatively high level of activity in old age is also associated with risk of falls and so the prevention of falls and subsequent injuries remains a challenge. According to a study [1] (WALLERS, 1977) performed on 150 subjects older than 60 year living in Vermont, 19 out of 1000 elderly persons from that region are treated annually for falls. At least a third of this population of elderly falls down every year but usually don’t require treatment. A third of the treated falls were precipitated by an acute health problem, usually an exacerbation of a more chronic condition. The data do not support the hypothesis that falls of the elderly commonly occur because of fractures of hips or vertebrae, but they do suggest that brittleness of bone, small muscle mass or both are substantial contributors to fractures in the elderly once the fall has been initiated. So the chance of falling down as well as the chance of fracture following a fall, e.g. hip fracture, is significantly higher in this age category and the revalidation or healing process takes longer (if full recovery is possible in the first place).

Admittance in the hospital, medication, revalidation, mobility aids, they all add up to make falling down an expensive accident. This, and of course the pain accompanied with it, makes falling down a well feared scenario by the elderly. Because they usually already live in some sort of social isolation the question of finding help in time, right after the fall, is not always a sure thing. Fortunately modern technology offers an easy way of reaching out to their social network the call for aid. But even though we are very well capable of treating a fall, it is always better to prevent one. Not only because of the price tag that come with it, but also to eliminate the fear that people of respected age feel when doing the most basic things, day in, day out.

Study [3] has proven that fear of falling is related to lower quality of life. The elderly are reluctant to do basic tasks to meet the standard way of living. Falling down for them has more severe consequences than falling down for people of a younger generation, thus it is not worth to take such a risk.

With an autonomic, active exoskeleton we can get the elderly out of their social isolation and increase their standard way of living by giving them the strength and the courage to do the basic activities needed for their daily life. Going to the supermarket won’t be that much of a challenge anymore. Leaving the safe grounds of their house to meet with their friends is no longer a battle against their fears. Even taking care of their personal hygiene can be done with a safe feeling. We can reduce the risk of falling due to muscle fatigue or small muscle mass. And if a fall should occur, we can even use this device to help with the revalidation afterwards.

I think this way of helping the older generation is welcome because they want to be independent as long as they can, keeping their pride and dignity. Consequently, less social workers will be necessary and retirement homes will be redundant. People will be happier and hopefully healthier for a longer period of time. This can save society a lot of money.

 

 

  1. A.H. MYERS, Y. YOUNG, J.A. LANGLOIS ; Prevention of falls in the elderly, January 1996.
  2. J.A. WALLERS, Falls among the elderly—Human and environmental factors, University of Vermont, 1977.
  3. M. E. Lachman, J. Howland, S. Tennstedt, A. Jette, S. Assmann and E. W. Peterson; Fear of Falling and Activity Restriction: The Survey of Activities and Fear of Falling in the Elderly (SAFE), November 1996.

 

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