Could taking a tumble have emotional consequences?


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Having a fall can happen at any age. We can be clumsy or lose our balance and it can be quite debilitating if it is an especially hard fall. But do the consequences go further than that?

New studies have found that there is a strong link between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and falls in over 65s – a link that may not have been truly realised until now. Often when we fall over we feel wary of repeating the same action that caused us to have the accident, but there is evidence to suggest that this can be a display of the symptoms of PTSD.

Research published in the General Hospital Psychiatry journal found symptoms associated with PTSD in 27 out of 100 people over 65 who had been admitted to a hospital after a fall.

“Anyone who goes through an accident in which they feel their life may be in danger or they could get physically harmed can develop post-traumatic stress symptoms,” said Dr Nimali Jayasinghe, assistant professor of psychology and faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.
Using the Post-Traumatic Stress Symptom Scale, hospital patients were assessed and information was collected about their background, marital status, previous mental health issues and current health conditions, and about their fall, including where they fell, how long it took to get help, and the location and severity of injuries. The majority of patients had fallen in their home and had received help within an hour. The most common injury was a fracture.
It is interesting to note that the sufferers of PTSD were more likely to be women, unemployed, uneducated, or had injuries to their back or chest. When you combine each of these with upsetting thoughts of a recent fall, it seems the most vulnerable were more susceptible.
But what is the difference between “normal” stress and anxiety about a situation and having bonafide PTSD? After a traumatic event such as a terrifying fall where you were hospitalised, it’s typical to feel overwhelmed and upset, and as if your safety has been compromised, but if you find yourself constantly thinking about the incident and becoming increasingly withdrawn, it may be more serious. Nightmares and fearful feelings should subside, not get worse. The most common symptoms the participants in the study reported were feeling upset when they thought of their fall, changes to their future and problems sleeping.

Further studies may be conducted to see if a hospital setting is beneficial to settling PTSD symptoms, or detrimental.

Falls are a major cause of injury for over 65s but by no means do they only happen to the weak and the frail – anyone can be at risk as they age.

As mentioned above, falls are extremely common in our generation and is the leading cause of hospitalisation in Australia. Most falls cause scrapes, bruises or breaks to hips and wrists, but the worst can be head, shoulder and back, so it’s important to be vigilant, even if you think it won’t happen to you.

To avoid falls, it’s advised to exercise to improve your balance, strength and flexibility. If you’re frail, you’re more like to come away injured than if you were fit. Also wear proper shoes with slip resistant soles.


Have you had a fall? Did you suffer from stress afterwards? What happened? Tell us your stories.