Watch your step: Researchers help seniors stay on their feet

Apr 7th, 2014

Michelle Osmond

Watch your step: Researchers help seniors stay on their feet

According to Statistics Canada, approximately one-third of adults over 65 fall each year and 60 per cent of injuries in those over 65 are fall related. Most of these falls occur in the home. Memorial University’s School of Human Kinetics and Recreation (HKR) is hoping to change those statistics.

Dr. Jeannette Byrne started in Holyrood with a fall prevention program; a balance-based exercise program for seniors. A few months back Mary noticed an advertisement in the Holyrood town flyer about the program so she signed up.

“I didn’t really know what it was when I saw it advertised, but I do whatever I can to stay active for my health and well-being.” The program was part of a research project Fall Prevention in Community Dwelling Seniors: A Quantitative and Qualitative Study.

Dr. Byrne and masters student Megan Cummings ran two groups: One which received balance-based exercises and an information session and a second group which received only the information session. To make recommendations for future programs, they wanted to know if the intervention program affected how confident they felt and whether there were balance improvements.

With funding from the Newfoundland and Labrador Healthy Aging Research Program (NLHARP), which is administered by Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Applied Health Research, the exercise-based group met twice a week for ten weeks. They performed exercises and activities to challenge their balance. During the program there was also information on fall prevention, how to reduce the risk and what to do after a fall. According to Mary, simple advice such as proper footwear around the house and getting rid of mats was very useful.

“Balance is very important as we age and our muscles get weaker,” said Rebecca Lau, a student who worked on the project. “Statistics show that as we age we are at greater risk for falling due to a number of factors such as vision, hearing, medications, home-hazards, etc. Hopefully, the results of this study will show how important these interventions are and how seniors can benefit from these programs.”

For Mary, it means that when winter ice hits, she will have a lot more confidence. “I feel safer and I’ve learned a lot. I’m more relaxed now and not as scared of falling.”

Dr. Byrne, along with Dr. Angela Loucks-Atkinson along with Sherry Kennedy, a regional health educator with Eastern Health, also hosted a community event in February, Watch your step: Staying active and on your feet as you age. The interactive session was meant to not only inform but start conversations and answer questions around falls and to help empower seniors to stay on their own two feet.

“A lot of seniors don’t realize how changing a few things around their home will go a long way towards preventing a fall,” notes Dr. Byrne. “Many also don’t realize that even though there is a high rate of falls with seniors, it is not a natural part of aging. There are so many things they can do to prevent it.”

Funding for this event came from the Royal Society of Canada’s Open Academy. The researchers are planning another event is planned for the fall.