The Association between Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Subthreshold Anxiety Symptoms and Fear of Falling among Older Adults: Preliminary Results from a Pilot Study

Clin Gerontol. May-Jun 2017;40(3):197-206. doi: 10.1080/07317115.2017.1296523. Epub 2017 Feb 26.


Objective: A relationship between generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and fear of falling (FOF) has long been proposed but never specifically studied. This study aimed at analyzing the relationship between FOF and GAD or anxiety symptoms, while controlling for major depressive episodes (MDE), depressive symptoms, fall risk, and sociodemographic variables.

Methods: Twenty-five older adults participated in this pilot study. Assessments included the following: Anxiety Disorder Interview Schedule, Geriatric Anxiety Inventory, Geriatric Depression Scale, Falls-Efficacy Scale-International. A multidisciplinary team evaluated fall risk.

Results: FOF was significantly correlated with GAD, MDE, anxiety and depressive symptoms, and fall risk, but not with sociodemographic variables. Multiple regression analyses indicated that GAD and anxiety symptoms were significantly and independently associated with FOF.

Conclusion: Although the results of this pilot study should be replicated with larger samples, they suggest that FOF is associated with GAD and anxiety symptoms even when considering physical factors that increase the risk of falling.

Clinical implications: Treatment of FOF in patients with GAD may present a particular challenge because of the central role of intolerance of uncertainty, which may prevent patients from regaining confidence despite the reduction of fall risk. Clinicians should screen for GAD and anxiety symptoms in patients with FOF to improve detection and treatment.

Keywords: Anxiety; fear of falling; generalized anxiety disorder; older adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls*
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / complications
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / complications
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment / methods
  • Geriatric Assessment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Risk Factors