When you fall can it cause more than physical damage?

It can happen at anytime and having a fall can happen at any age. We can be clumsy or lose
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It can happen at anytime and 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 a particularly hard fall. But do the consequences go further than that?

New studies have found that there is a close link between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and falls in over 65s – a relationship that may not have been actually 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 people living with 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your safety has been compromised, but if you find yourself always thinking about the incident and becoming increasingly withdrawn, it may be more severe. 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 leading 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 are 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 experts 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.

  1. Primrose Allen  

    My fall happened at a mobility group. As I was turning I was knocked. I was grateful that nothing was broken, but as I am 79 it really shook me up. I didn’t go to the Dr for some weeks. My shoulder had been very painful. I had some small tears. I am so tired of the pain, and finding sleep very difficult. My class was important to me, but my confidence has gone!

  2. Carol Borg  

    I recently fell down a few stairs I broke my foot and was in a moon boot for 6 weeks I also hurt my back.i was told not to put any pressure on my foot at all so ended up sitting and sleeping downstairs as my bedroom and shower were upstairs. No I am able to walk but I just don’t want to do anything at all. I only have to stand for a few minutes and my back just kills me.its so stressful I am just sitting watching everything pile up around me.my husband has been a power of strength.i am getting some needles in my back but they take about 3 weeks to actually work I just don’t want to do anything at all I no it’s the fear that my back will hurt but I am really trying to be strong it’s just so painful.

    • linus  

      Hi carol, did similar myself , I was lucky I got into water physio. Really helped with my stability

    • Elaine Omdahl  

      Hi Carol, I feel for you because this can be the start of the `slippery slope’, sitting is bad for us and we become weak, I notice you commented about `standing for a few minutes’…just want to say that I have osteoarthritis in my lower spine which aches a lot, the worst pain is when I am standing, I find it aches less when I am walking, as long as I don’t attempt to walk too far therefore I would suggest to you that you start walking short distances, preferably without any walking aids and gradually build up the distance, I have found that walking strengthens my back muscles and seems to give support to my joints thereby cutting back on the pain, just a thought x

  3. Marie  

    I’ve had many falls, up, or down steps, or tripped over.

    Luckily, due high bone density, nothing’s broken, touch wood!

    But it sure gives me a fright, & I’m extra vigilant, as older, now.
    I’ll hang onto a railing, where possible.
    Will take a Lift, if one’s in my vicinity!
    Wear ‘athletic-type’ shoes’, & ‘flat’ boots’, & shoes’, as often, as circumstances’ permit, these days’, as I feel more ‘secure’ in my movement with them on!

  4. I had a fall in 2010 at work sliding along floor and hitting my head on wall ended up fracturing c1 was in neck brace for 7 months off work 12 months had a fall earlier on this year ended up with compression fracture of l2 very parnoid about falling again i use a wheelie walker now if i am going to walk any distance i do excercise in swimming pool but i do stress about falling i have also had a total knee replacment waiting on the other one to get done even finding the right seating has become very important.

  5. Elaine Omdahl  

    I am 75 and have had several quite serious falls, none of which was caused by age or frailty, just by accident, it does shake us up for sure, the immediate feeling of `oh no, what have I done to myself’ would not occur if we were younger but as oldies we are aware that falling can cause us serious issues….I don’t feel like I have had PTSD but it has made me more cautious when I walk which is a good thing.
    Here’s a question for you…..at what age do we go from `falling over’ to….`having a fall’..just curious because both comments mean the same thing however the latter `having a fall’ denotes fragility, old age and all things we don’t want to be associated with! I prefer to say that I `fell over’, it makes me feel better, because people `fall over’ at any age!

  6. im  

    I find it hard to believe that a fall is associated with PTSD.

  7. My situation is a little different. At 60 I took up motorcycle riding. At 64 I had a fall in the outback of NSW and was evacuated to Adelaide via RFDS. The result was four broken ribs on my left side. At 65 I had a fall in the outback of the NT, necessitating an ambulance ride, an emergency operation and then a RFDS evacuation to Alice Springs – eight breaks in six ribs, a broken shoulder blade (others can still see the result, but I suffered no lasting damage) and a punctured lung. Consequently I had a fall in my driveway from blood clots in my lungs – enough to give me three days in The Alfred Intensive Care.
    Apparently I have “traumatic amnesia” – when I know I’m going to be hurt, my brain ceases to create memories, so I have no idea about my coming off my motorcycle from immediately before until after – but I can vividly remember my collapse in the drive.
    I won’t ride in sand again, not because I can’t (I can, and I’m pretty good at it) but because the damage may be both permanent and fatal next time. At 66, I don’t bounce too well, breaks take time to heal and I don’t particularly like pain or having to use a nappy because I can’t move enough to use a bedpan.
    I can’t say I’ve suffered mentally because of it (family and friends say my mental state has improved because I made the decision not to ride in sand) but it has shown me insights into how my own brain works.
    P.S. The last thing I remember before coming off the second time was thinking, “This is going to hurt!” and I was right. When I started thinking again (I have no idea if I lost consciousness or not) I switched automatically into “first aid” mode, checked I had no upper or lower spinal damage, then went to set my EPIRB off. However a couple arrived on the scene before I did and they rang 000. I didn’t move as I suspected I may have back damage (I didn’t, but it took two days to find that out – good gear is worth it).

  8. jo myles  

    I have had two falls this year. I am terrified of falling again. Hurt both shoulder first time, took 6 months to heal, with lots of Physio. Second time damaged my ribs, took 5 weeks to heal, sleeping was a nightmare. Had to sleep in recliner.
    I now walk alot slower and watch carefully while walking. Have lost confidence, gravity is so unforgiving.

  9. Cerato  

    I was a regular bike rider until one day while going off the path to avoid two pedestrians I had a rather bad fall after my tyre got stuck in a rut. So my balance was not an issue but seat was too high I’ve been told and so was unable to reach the ground to balance myself. I believe I suffer from post stress disorder as any time I see an accident, I physically feel the fall all over again.(Or an electric shock of sorts goes through my body). At the time I only suffered cuts and bruises, but my neck was thrown out and I now suffer from Menieres disease. Ringing in one ear and a ‘motor’ running in the other. Bad at night when everything’s quiet. Physio hasn’t helped with my neck and I suffer from severe pain in the front of my head when I cough or sit over my desk too long. A read nuisance as I do craftwork. So when looking down, this causes most of the problems. I have started riding again but am very wary now and have lowered my seat.

  10. Sandra Hogden  

    My problem is not just with falling. Its with getting up afterwards (that’s if i have not hurt myself ). I dread falling somewhere embarassing like in the shower.

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