Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Alan Salmoni


Falls during older adulthood present a major threat to the health and wellbeing of older adults and a challenge to society. While effective fall prevention strategies have been developed to address risk factors for falls, older adults commonly resist participation in such programming and dissociate from the topic of falls in general. After reviewing research findings and the theoretical literature, support was found for approaching falls as a stigmatizing topic for older adults. Three mixed methods experiments were completed to test the influence of stigma on older adults‟ attitudes, opinions, and behaviours. Experiments 1 and 2 tested the labelling aspect of fall-related stigma on older adults‟ attitudes and reported behaviours. Experiment 1 randomly assigned participants to receive an exercise program described as either an “exercise class for older adults” or a “fall prevention exercise class for older adults”. Experiment 2 modified the study design of Experiment 1 and presented each participant with a two-alternative, forced-choice response between the two exercise program descriptions. When given the opportunity to participate in either the non-labelled exercise class or the labelled, fall prevention exercise class, the majority of participants (79%) preferred the non-labelled exercise program option. However, a subgroup of older adults identified with the fall prevention label, selected it as their preferred program, and provided a logical rationale for doing so. Analyses were conducted to investigate whether other survey responses could be used to better understand participants‟ choices. The key factors related to participants‟ perceptions of falls and stigma were identified by the predictors uncovered. Experiment 3 then used the factors from Experiment 2 to determine whether an informational message addressing the key constructs could mitigate the negative fall prevention label. After reading a randomly assigned vignette addressing the key statements, participants were asked to make a two-alternative, forced-choice response for their preferred exercise program. The results indicated that the informational vignette was effective in de-stigmatizing the fall prevention label, with 41% of respondents selecting it as their preferred program. The findings of these experiments indicate that while falls are a stigmatizing topic for older adults, it appears to be amenable to attenuation.