The Fear of Falling by Mandy Eve-Barnett
As children, falling is as commonplace as eating and breathing, there is no fear. We transition from crawling on all fours to the tottering and grasping of objects or parental hands to standing upright. The falling is a learning process on how to balance upright, adapting our bodies to counteract the instability of standing. Once standing has been achieved, we learn the motion of walking and eventually running. As we grow older, we engage in other activities that result in falls, such as bike riding, engaging on playground equipment, sports and the inevitable school recess antics. It is an expected result of such endeavors and bruises, cuts and scrapes are a part of everyone’s childhood. Skinned knees are the badge of childhood.
In our teen years and early twenties, our falling can be of a more serious nature as our activities involve more extreme modes of transport and sports. Snowboarding and skiing, for instance, are often accompanied by falls, which hopefully have softer landings but not always. Unfortunately, motor bikes and cars do not have a soft landing to our falling. For example, I suffered severe bruising from coming off a motorbike on an ice covered road and hitting the curb with my rear! I couldn’t sit properly for weeks. Injuries are more severe and falling has more dire consequences. This is the start of a fear of falling for some of us.
As we mature, play recedes into the background as we immerse ourselves into work and other commitments. Some of us continue with sporting activities, of course, but we minimize the risks of falling as much as is possible. Our body weight, as opposed to a baby or toddler is greater and therefore so is the impact of a fall. Falling becomes a distant memory for the most part and is a rare occurrence (hopefully). We may see the fear of falling in our elders and try to understand their way of thinking as we have not reached that stage of our life yet.
Eventually, as our body ages and its ability to bounce back declines, our fear of falling increases as does the impact, literally. A steep hill, an icy pathway, slippery rocks by the ocean and a vast number of other obstacles increase our apprehension. The mere thought of falling is anxiety inducing. We understand the fragility of our aging bodies and the possible outcomes of a fall. We read statistics that give us more anxiety, such as 800,000 patients a year are admitted to hospital due to fall injuries, usually hip or head fractures but also strained muscles, dislocations and open wounds. We understand falls are caused by balance problems, muscle weakness, poor vision, low blood pressure or even dementia. In other words getting old isn’t for the faint hearted and certainly falling isn’t on a ‘to do list’!