Expert Commentary: Dr. Micozzi, M.D - May 18, 2009

Yoga and the Fear of Falling Anything that can reduce the fear of falling among senior citizens would truly be a valuable contribution to society. Such a fear may not seem like a big deal. But the fact is that, among the elderly, it can have huge repercussions – on both a personal level for each affected senior citizen and on a societal level in terms of increasing the burden on the health-care system.

     With roughly 35 million people in the United States above the age of 65, and with studies showing that some 30 percent to 50 percent of elderly people have a fear of falling, the result is that 10 million to 17 million older Americans live with such a fear. For many such people, their fear leads them to shrink from everyday tasks such as bathing, cleaning or walking. If they don’t get the exercise and social interaction they need, according to a study in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, that means millions of people’s physical and mental health can decline – all due to fear of falling.

And their fear is not so unreasonable either, because a third of those over 65 actually do fall each year. A bad fall for an elderly person can produce a bruise, a slow-healing wound or a fracture that lands him or her in a nursing home.

            “This fear of falling exists in people who have never fallen before,” said Margaret Mary Wilson, assistant professor of geriatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine and the lead researcher of the Journal of Gerontology study. “It’s an illogical fear. Yet they’re so afraid of falling that they avoid activities. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They become weak and they fall.”

            So it’s great news indeed to hear that when elderly people take yoga classes, their fear of falling subsides somewhat. Together with other benefits of yoga – such as muscle toning, joint flexibility, lower blood pressure and reduced stress – this can contribute to the well-being and healthy longevity of our senior citizens. As the sage says, every little bit helps.

 


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