A one-year prospective cohort study led by Professor Stephen Lord from the Neuroscience Research Australia as NSW University reveals perceived risk of falling influences whether an older individual actually fall regardless of the actual physiological risk. 

Fall risk, according to Prof Lord is associated with an incongruity between actual and perceived risk.

In the group of study participants with low physiological risk of falling, those who believed their risk was higher were more likely to injure themselves in a fall, within the one year follow-up than those with a more realistic view of their risk.

The researchers stated that fear of falling has been related with objective measures of balance, gait and falls.

They also noted that unfounded fears could lead to a greater fall risk due to reduced participation in physical and social activities, resulting in further deterioration of physical condition, poor quality of life, social isolation, depression and psychological problems.

The study by Prof Lord and colleagues involved 500 individuals ages 70 to 90 who were Sydney residents with an aim to explore perceived versus actual fall risk.

They were divided into four groups according to their actual and perceived risk of falling. Low risk vigorous and high risk aware had risk interpretation that was in line with their physiological risk (both comprised 69 per cent of the sample).

The remainder 31 per cent had a perceived risk that was not consistent with their actual risk.

Those who had a low physiological risk but a high perceived risk fall into the category of anxious individuals, while those who perceived their high risk to be lower than it actually was, fell under the category stoic.

It was found that the anxious group had more depressive symptoms, more irrational fears, more self-rated disability, reduced executive functioning, lower quality of life, poor performance in the stability test, and increased harmful falls than the vigorous group - who had more accurate view of their risks.

The stoic was found to have had lower levels of self-rated disability, fewer depression symptoms, fewer irrational fears, better quality of life, higher levels of planned exercise, increased strength and better performance on the stability test that those who accurately assessed their fall risk.