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Exercise for elderly helps minimise fall injuries

Rate of falls resulting in injuries is less after exercise

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The number of older people falling and those sustaining injuries from falls are both reduced if people have participated in exercise programmes, concludes a study published online today by the BMJ.

French researchers found that exercise programmes designed to prevent falls in older adults also appeared to prevent injuries caused by falls.

Fall-related injuries are common among older people and are a major cause of long-term pain and functional impairment. Such falls also increase the chances of a person being sent to nursing home and have a high economic cost.

It is already known that well-designed exercise programmes can prevent falls in older adults living at home, but there is little evidence that these programmes can prevent injuries caused by falls.

Researchers led by Fabienne El Khoury, of the Hôpital Paul Brousse Batiment, Villejuif, set out to see if fall-prevention exercise programmes were associated with a lower risk of fractures and other injuries due to falls.

They studied data taken from various sources and included 17 trials with a total of 4,305 participants split into 2,195 people in the exercise group and 2,110 people in control groups. Their average age was 76 years and 77% of them were women.

The trials studied included various forms of exercise including Tai Chi, gait, balance and functional training, and strength/resistance training exercises.

The various trials had different ways of defining and classifying falls that caused injuries including diverse consequences such as relatively minor injuries (bruises and fractures) and injuries requiring hospitalisations.

Analysis showed that most of the exercise interventions tended to reduce falls that caused injuries in all categories and exercise seemed to significantly decrease the rate of falls resulting in medical care, serious injuries and fractures.

Exercises that proved to be effective for fall prevention emphasised balance training, which the researchers said was “ample evidence that this type of programme improves balance ability”.

The researchers concluded: “The results presented in this paper show a positive effect of exercise on injurious falls, including the most severe falls and those that result in medical care—that is, those with the greatest consequences for people’s health and use of resources.

“These results should provide useful additional evidence for healthcare providers to encourage participation in exercise fall prevention programmes, and further justification for decision makers to provide funding for those programmes.”

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f6234

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