Image of senior woman with a mask looking wistfully out a door

For some seniors, pandemic isolation has created a perfect storm of physical inactivity and deconditioning that has resulted in increased falls risk and greater fear of falling, researchers say.

More than 2,000 participants aged 50 to 80 years old were surveyed online in January 2021 about changes to their activities since March 2020. Respondents were asked about health behaviors such as physical activity and daily time spent on their feet; social isolation such as companionship and perceived isolation; physical function including mobility and physical conditioning; and falls and fear of falling.

Investigators found that:

  • 37% of respondents reported reduced physical activity levels;
  • 35% reported reduced daily time spent on their feet;
  • 37% reported lack of companionship; and 
  • 46% reported  social isolation.

The relationships between these factors were analyzed, and the results showed that decreased physical activity, less time spent on one’s feet, and social isolation were, not surprisingly, linked to worsened physical conditioning and mobility. 

These pandemic-related changes appeared to exacerbate a common problem of older age for some of these seniors, the investigators said. Respondents with decreased mobility were more likely to report experiencing falls and an increased fear of falling. And those who had lost physical conditioning and were socially isolated also expressed more fear of falling.

“Physical function worsens with older age, particularly for sedentary and socially isolated individuals, and this often leads to injuries,” wrote Geoffrey J. Hoffman, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan School of Nursing, and colleagues.

“Public health actions to address reduced physical activity and social isolation among older adults are needed,” they concluded.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.