Fear of falling and coexisting sensory difficulties as predictors of mobility decline in older women

Anne Viljanen, Jenni Kulmala, Merja Rantakokko, Markku Koskenvuo, Jaakko Kaprio, Taina Rantanen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Mobility decline, the coexistence of several sensory difficulties and fear of falling (FOF) are all common concerns in older people; however, knowledge about the combined effect of FOF and coexisting sensory difficulties on mobility is lacking.

METHODS: Data on self-reported FOF, difficulties in hearing, vision, balance, and walking 2 km were gathered with a structured questionnaire among 434 women aged 63-76 years at baseline and after a 3-year follow-up. Logistic regression models were used for analyses.

RESULTS: Every third participant reported difficulties in walking 2 km at baseline. In cross-sectional analysis, the odds ratio for difficulties in walking 2 km was higher among persons who reported FOF compared with persons without FOF and the odds increased with the increasing number of sensory difficulties. Persons who reported FOF and who had three sensory difficulties had almost fivefold odds (odds ratio = 4.7, 95% confidence interval = 1.9-11.7) for walking difficulties compared with those who reported no FOF and no sensory difficulties. Among the 290 women without walking difficulties at baseline, 54 participants developed difficulty in walking 2 km during the 3-year follow-up. Odds ratio for incident walking difficulty was 3.5 (95% confidence interval = 1.6-7.8) in participants with FOF and with 2-3 sensory difficulties compared with persons without FOF and with at most one sensory difficulty at baseline.

CONCLUSIONS: Older women who have several coexisting sensory difficulties combined with FOF are particularly vulnerable to mobility decline. Avoidance of walking as a result of FOF is likely to be reinforced when multiple sensory difficulties hinder reception of accurate information about the environment, resulting in accelerated decline in walking ability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1230–1237
Number of pages8
JournalThe Journals of Gerontology: Series A
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Accidental Falls/statistics & numerical data
  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging/physiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Geriatric Assessment/methods
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Middle Aged
  • Mobility Limitation
  • Odds Ratio
  • Postural Balance
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sensation Disorders/diagnosis
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


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