A promising trial of a strength and balance exercise program in aged care has resulted in a 55 per cent reduction in the rate of falls among residents.
The SUNBEAM trial (Strength and Balance Exercise in Aged Care) consisted of individually prescribed progressive resistance training plus balance exercises performed in a group setting for 50 hours over a 25-week period, followed by a six-month maintenance program.
It involved 221 aged care residents from 16 facilities in New South Wales and Queensland, half of whom participated in SUNBEAM, with the other half following their normal care regime.
The results, which were published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, show a significant drop in the rate of falls among participants, said lead investigator Jennie Hewitt.
Ms Hewitt, positive living co-ordinator at Feros Care, a physiotherapist and PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, has spent the past six years developing an evidence base for the prevention and management of physical injuries among aged care residents.
The 55 per cent reduction in falls rate among the SUNBEAM participants was “bigger than in any other study to date,” Ms Hewitt told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“There was also a considerable difference in participants’ balance and mobility.”
She said the residents were also “incredibly positive” about their experience.
“People were telling us that the program was changing their lives. Some were newly able to get in and out of the car and go out with their family. You could see them walking tall and proud when they came in,” Ms Hewitt said.
Older people in residential care facilities are up to three times more likely to experience a fall than their counterparts in the community.
An Australian study published in the latest Australasian Journal on Ageing suggests that reliable falls risk assessment tools for facilities are still being developed and that more research is needed to determine the best choice tool for residential care.
Ms Hewitt said she hoped the results of her study would lead to resistance training and balance exercises being incorporated into funded physiotherapy services in aged care.
Feros Care is taking steps towards this by supporting physiotherapy students on placement to deliver restorative programs “rather than just pain management activities such as TENS [transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation] and massage,” she said.
Ms Hewitt will present the results of her research to Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt at a Deans Forum in Canberra next month.
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