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Walking programme fails to significantly reduce falls risk in older patients


Self-directed walking programmes do not reduce incidence of falls in older patients, though there were other benefits from increased physical exercise, according to researchers.

The results of a trial in Australia found that a self-directed walking programme designed for sedentary older people did not reduce incidence of falls.

The “easy steps” trial investigated the impact of a 48-week walking programme in older people in the city of Sydney.

The study, published online in the journal Age and Ageing, randomised 386 physically inactive, community-dwelling people aged 65 or over into an intervention or control group.

“We need to reconsider how walking is incorporated into falls prevention guidelines”

Alexander Voukelatos

The intervention group received a self-directed, 48-week walking programme that involved three mailed printed manuals and telephone coaching. The control group received health information that was unrelated to falls.

Monthly fall calendars were used to monitor falls over 48 weeks. Secondary outcomes were self-reported, and they included information on quality of life, exercise levels, and walking levels.

The study authors found no significant difference in fall rates between the intervention group and the control group, and no significant differences in the proportion of fallers or recurrent fallers.

A sub-sample of 178 participants took part in a home visit scheme that measured mobility levels, choice step reaction time, and knee extension strength.

No evidence was found of the walking programme having an impact on choice step reaction time or knee extension strength, but mobility scores were significantly improved.  

Although the programme did not reduce falls in older people, it did increase walking behaviour and physical activity levels, noted the researchers.

Lead study author Dr Alexander Voukelatos said: “These results show that walking is unlikely to have an effect on falls.

“We need to reconsider how walking is incorporated into falls prevention guidelines, given that it is currently considered by a majority of older people to be a good way to prevent falls,” he said.

He added that the programme had no impact on balance, which may explain why it was “ineffective with respect to falls”.

“However, walking may be a useful adjunct to increase physical activity for older people, particularly for those under the age of 75,” he said.


Readers' comments (3)

  • Dear Editor, Thanks for your interesting article re falls. As a former Registered Nurse for 48 years I know mobility and weight bearing and walking are so important in the Aged, but I think also coordination has a big part to play.
    Poor coordination can be caused by ill-fitting shoes, poor eye sight and inadequate lighting around the home. Here in Australia our Electricity has been privatised and our cost of electricity has more than doubled on the last two years so many elderly people turn off the lights.
    I am now 77 yrs. old and have been widowed for 9 years. After my husband died (he was an Englishman) 9 years ago I learnt to tow our caravan. I towed all over Australia and retained the two Caravan club memberships we joined on our retirement. It kept me busy and I stopped grieving for this dear man’s death. I was always so tired.
    In 2013 at the urging from my 7 daughters I sold the caravan and have missed the travelling and meeting new people and seeing new places dreadfully. On the last day of 2014 I went online and bought a small tent called Lotus Pearl from a web site called Lotus It’s in New Zealand. As I write this my tent has arrived and I have yet to unpack it. It weighs 8.5 kgms. So for me it is liftable. I weight 64 kgms so weight is important to me know.
    Next week I am off to a music Festival at Tamworth in NSW a fortnight event. I am so excited. Thanks for your web site. It keeps me in touch with Nursing.
    I live at Coolangatta, Queensland, Australia
    Phone 0755 363127 Mob 0412539978
    Signed Lorna Virgo

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  • Lorna Virgo | 8-Jan-2015 10:08 pm

    what an interesting and inspiring letter. thank you so much for sharing. We should have a dedicated column for such personal histories.

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  • high interest hobbies and dancing (introduced in stages, beginning with sitting down) to maintain/increase balance and reduce falls? Oh, and watch out for the effects of humidity and turning swiftly without mindfulness.

    from a long retired nurse who occasionally does fall.

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