Researchers aim to prevent falls in older people with vision impairment

20 October 2014

Exercise can help prevent falls

Exercise can help prevent falls

New research aims to adapt an evidence-based exercise programme for falls prevention among older people with vision impairments.

Falls and fear of falling have a big impact on older people’s lives. Many people stop going out altogether, and others reduce their activity so that they are much less active than they used to be. Exercise programmes can help this by building up their confidence and their physical strength, balance and stamina. This can help make them less likely to fall and more likely to have a better quality of life.

However, many older people with poor sight and blindness cannot easily access or join exercise programmes.

Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), Northumbria University, Newcastle University and the University of Manchester have teamed up to establish if exercise programmes which help prevent falls in older people can be adapted to help visually impaired people.

The research will also involve Scottish charity Visibility, which works with people with visual impairments to help them make their own choices and live their lives fully, confidently and independently, and Health Works Newcastle, which helps people to make positive impacts on their health.

Funded with a £463,000 grant from the National Institute for Health Research’s Heath Technology Assessment, the researchers will work with a group of older people who are visually impaired and health and exercise professionals to adapt the programme and agree on ways of measuring how well it works, including measuring confidence, number of falls, fear of falling and general health, for those with sight loss.

This work will be followed by a pilot study of the exercise programme in Newcastle and in Glasgow. Older people who are invited to take part will be randomised to either receive the 12-week exercise programme or no training, and will be assessed at the beginning and end of the exercise classes and after six months.

As a pilot study, the main focus of the research will be to see if older people with sight loss are able to join in and stick with the exercise programmes, with potential for a follow up large-scale randomised controlled trial.

Dawn Skelton, Professor of Ageing and Health at GCU, says: “This research builds on the Falls Management Exercise (FaME) programme, which I published back in 2005. This was one of the first strength and balance programmes for older people with a history of frequent falls and includes floor work to increase confidence and quality of life.

“Across the UK, 54% of falls services have FaME instructors (also known as Postural Stability Instructors) who lead the exercise interventions. By ensuring that this evidence-based programme is inclusive and allows those with severe visual impairment to access and make the most of these services should make a big difference to those often most excluded.”

GCU research involves developing and evaluating new interventions to promote healthy living, maintain independence, and improve quality of life and activity in older adults. The research aims to embed evidence-based fall prevention programmes for elderly people at risk of falls.

Professor Skelton is currently also leading Seniors USP: Understanding Sedentary Patterns and is working on a three-year European Funded project ProFouND - Prevention of Falls Network for Dissemination.