BACKGROUND: fear of falling (FOF) is a major health problem among the elderly living in communities, present in older people who have fallen but also in older people who have never experienced a fall. The aims of this study were 4-fold: first, to study methods to measure FOF; second, to study the prevalence of FOF among fallers and non-fallers; third, to identify factors related to FOF; and last, to investigate the relationship between FOF and possible consequences among community-dwelling older persons.
METHODS: several databases were systematically searched, and selected articles were cross-checked for other relevant publications.
RESULTS: a systematic review identified 28 relevant studies among the community-dwelling elderly. Due to the many different kinds of measurements used, the reported prevalence of FOF varied between 3 and 85%. The main risk factors for developing FOF are at least one fall, being female and being older. The main consequences were identified as a decline in physical and mental performance, an increased risk of falling and progressive loss of health-related quality of life.
CONCLUSION: this review shows that there is great variation in the reported prevalence of FOF in older people and that there are multiple associated factors. Knowledge of risk factors of FOF may be useful in developing multidimensional strategies to decrease FOF and improve quality of life. However, the only identified modifiable risk factor of FOF is a previous fall. In order to measure the impact of interventions, a uniform measurement strategy for FOF should be adopted, and follow-up studies should be conducted.