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Newly Acquired Fear of Falling Leads to Altered Eye Movement Patterns and Reduced Stepping Safety: A Case Study
Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Author: William R. Young et al.

by William R. Young, Mark A. Hollands

This opportune case study describes visual and stepping behaviours of an 87 year old female (P8), both prior to, and following two falls. Before falling, when asked to walk along a path containing two stepping guides positioned before and after an obstacle, P8 generally visually fixated the first stepping guide until after foot contact inside it. However, after falling P8 consistently looked away from the stepping guide before completing the step into it in order to fixate the upcoming obstacle in her path. The timing of gaze redirection away from the target (in relation to foot contact inside it) correlated with absolute stepping error. No differences in eyesight, cognitive function, or balance were found between pre- and post-fall recordings. However, P8 did report large increases in fall-related anxiety and reduced balance confidence, supporting previously suggested links between anxiety/increased fear or falling and maladaptive visual/stepping behaviours. The results represent a novel insight into how psychological and related behavioural factors can change in older adults following a fall, and provide a possible partial rationalisation for why recent fallers are more likely to fall again in the following 12 months. These findings highlight novel possibilities for falls prevention and rehabilitation.
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