As we’ve shown over the last few posts, falls are one of the greatest dangers to the over–65 population, and suffering from just one fall can lead to an unfortunate cascade of consequences that will significantly impact one’s health status. But we’ve also explained that falling is far from inevitable in older age, because you have the power to reduce your personal risk by making lifestyle changes in and out of your home, learning safe walking and transferring techniques, and seeing a physical therapist for a personalized fall–prevention program.
Physical therapy prevention programs are typically designed to improve strength, flexibility, mobility, balance, and proprioception (how you sense the position and location of your body in space), all of which are inherently associated with staying steady on your feet. Many of these programs have been implemented for older adults in long–term care facilities, and they are generally classified into one of these groups:
- Single interventions: consists only of various exercises
- Multifactorial interventions: consists of a customized combination of various exercises and other interventions, such as reducing medication use, modifying one’s home environment, and managing low blood pressure
- Multiple component interventions: consists of a fixed combination of exercises and other interventions that are intended to promote mobility, prevent muscle loss, and improve muscle coordination during physical tasks
Research on the effectiveness of these types of programs for preventing falls in older adults is mixed, with some identifying benefits and others failing to do so. Therefore, a powerful study called a systematic review was conducted to evaluate the current evidence on various exercise–based programs for reducing falls in community–dwelling older adults.
Most studies support the use of exercise–based prevention programs
Researchers performed a comprehensive search of four major medical databases for high–quality studies that assessed the impact of exercise–based programs (single interventions, multifactorial interventions, or multiple component interventions) for preventing falls and fall risk in older adults. This search led to 34 studies fitting the necessary criteria for inclusion in the systematic review.
Twelve of the included studies were themselves systematic reviews that reported outcomes on the reduction of falls, and of these, 11 reviews concluded that exercise–based interventions significantly reduced the incidence of falls. In addition, 10 systematic reviews discussed fall risk factors as outcomes, and eight of these reviews concluded that there was a significant improvement in various risk factors, including balance, muscle strength, functional mobility, heart and lung health, gait speed, or fear of falling. Only six papers evaluated negative outcomes among patients, and most of these cases were minor, suggesting that these programs were generally safe. Further analysis revealed that the most effective exercise programs were those that accounted for the specific needs and risks of each participant with a personalized rather than a one–size–fits–all approach.
Based on these findings, it appears that various types of programs with single interventions, multifactorial interventions, or multiple component interventions that include light to moderate exercise training can reduce fall risk factors and the incidence of falls in older adults living in long–term care facilities. We therefore encourage you to contact us if you’re interested in learning more about our fall–prevention services for you or a loved one.