Moving More to Prevent Falls

Fall prevention exercise programs led to a reduction in serious injuries after falls

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) For older adults, recovering from a fall could take months or even years depending on its severity. Some exercise programs are designed to prevent falls and the potentially serious injuries that could result from them.

A recent review looked at studies testing the effectiveness of these exercise programs for older adults. Researchers reviewed 17 trials to see if the programs actually had a positive effect on older people at risk of falling.

They found that fall prevention exercise programs were associated with a significantly lower risk of suffering an injury after a fall. Participants who had gone through an exercise program were much less likely to need to receive medical care for a fall or suffer from a bone fracture.

The researchers suggested that healthcare providers should suggest fall prevention exercises to older adults who are at risk of suffering from falls.

"If you are an older adult, talk to your doctor about an exercise program to help prevent fall injuries."

Fabienne El-Khoury of the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health led the review to see if fall prevention programs for older people were effective in preventing falls.

For older adults, injuries from falls can result in long-term health problems. Severe falls can lead to injuries that necessitate major surgery with a long recovery time.

There are exercise programs which have been designed to prevent serious falls in older adults. This review looked at previous trials designed to evaluate these exercise programs and whether they prevent falls and fall-related injuries.

The researchers looked at trials involving people who were older than 60 years, most of whom lived in community settings. In total, they looked at 17 studies with a total of 2,195 participants who were enrolled in the exercise programs and 2,110 participants in the control groups.

On average, the patients were 76.7 years old, and 77 percent were women. The trials involved several types of exercise routines, including Tai Chi and gait and balance exercises. The programs also commonly had strength and resistance components.

The researchers also looked at the falls reported by the participants. They noted the number of falls that resulted in injuries. They also used data on whether the falls required medical care, led to a fracture, or created a bruise or cut — and whether the participant had to be admitted to a hospital.

The researchers found that the fall prevention exercise programs both reduced the rates of falls and prevented participants from suffering worse injuries if they did fall.

Compared with the control groups, the participants in exercise programs had a 37 percent reduced rate of injuries from falls, a 43 percent rate of severe injuries (like head trauma) from falls, and a 61 percent reduction in falls that led to fractures.

The researchers suggested the balance training was a key component of the exercise programs that reduced the rate of injurious falls. They wrote that the programs seemed to improve reaction time, coordination and other physical and cognitive functions.

Additionally, exercise programs that were designed to improve bone mass could have prevented fractures in participants, according to the researchers.

The authors of the review wrote that there are some limitations to their method, because each trial defined injury differently and tested a different exercise program. However, the researchers did take measures to account for the differences in the studies by grouping the results into certain categories.

The researchers concluded that exercise programs have had a positive effect in reducing the severity of falls in older adults. They called for more research on other outcomes of exercise programs.

The research was published in BMJ on October 29.

The researchers received no funding, and the authors declared no support or financial relationships with any competing interests.

Review Date: 
October 28, 2013
Last Updated:
October 29, 2013