A new study into a free exercise program has shown it can reduce the rate of falls by up to 20 per cent, according to research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
The two-year trial, involving 503 Australians aged 70 years and older, found the home-based e-health balance exercise program, StandingTall, can provide an effective, self-managed fall-prevention program for older people who are living independently.
Falls in older people are common, can have serious consequences (hip fractures, placement in care facilities), are costly to the individual, society and the healthcare system, and are preventable.
Neuroscience Research Australia’s (NeuRA) Falls, Balance and Injury Research Centre is spearheading this world-leading research, and says StandingTall is currently the only effective e-health program aimed at preventing falls in older people.
StandingTall is a balance-training app containing more than 6000 exercises to help reduce a person’s risk of falling. The app is programmed to suit the ability of the user, and challenges older Australians with increasingly difficult exercises as their balance improves.
Read more: Better balance equals fewer falls
By adding in the ability to compete through a scoring system, the program keeps users motivated over the longer term.
Professor Kim Delbaere, study lead and senior principal research scientist at the Falls, Balances and Injury Research Centre at NeuRA, said e-health exercise programs such as StandingTall were an effective way for older people to maintain their independence and quality of life.
“For over three decades, falls and fall-related injuries have persistently been a leading cause or morbidity and mortality in older people,” she said.
“Research has shown that balance exercise programs are among the most effective strategies to prevent falls in older people.
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“This is the first trial to provide evidence that an unsupervised, home-based exercise program using technology designed to improve balance can prevent falls in older community-dwelling people.
“The 20 per cent reduction in the number of people experiencing a fall that results in an injury over a two-year period, could provide significant benefit to the safety and quality of life for our older generation.”
StandingTall provides healthcare professionals with a platform that they can remotely set up, monitor and tailor for their patients. But at the same time, it offers users full autonomy and requires minimal interaction with healthcare professionals.
An economic evaluation of the program is planned. The complete study can be found here.
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Key statistics on falls in Australia:
- Falls are one of the most significant health challenges faced by older Australians.
- Every year, one-third of people aged over 65 experience a major fall, with half of those falling again in the same year. This makes falls the leading cause of hospitalisation among older people.
- Each year, about 20,000 people experience a hip fracture in Australia and New Zealand.
- By 2051, Australia’s fall-related healthcare costs are predicted to reach $1.4 billion annually.
Is balance an issue for you? Does your exercise program help to keep you safe as well as fit? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?
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