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Step training could improve balance amongst the elderly

11th February 2016

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

A new research report suggests focusing on step training could help the elderly to build up better balance, therefore reducing the risk of falls.

As we get older our stability is not what it once was and while mobility equipment such as stair lifts for the elderly can help us make the more challenging journeys around our home, a new project reveals how the older generation could benefit from simple exercises designed to help us get a secure footing and improve balance.

The report, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, draws on analysis from seven previous studies to reveal that building up stepping skills can lower the risk of falls. Combining the case studies of 660 mature patients, the report implies that early intervention in the form of simple step training could cut the chances of taking a tumble later in life in half.

Step training focuses on increasing balance and are designed to help the elderly build up strength when carrying out every day activities like getting up from their rise recliner chairs or improving their ability to avoid obstacles when walking down the road.

Where step training is routinely followed, older people could develop their stamina to recover when they lose their balance, meaning that they can react to a knock or slip before it turns into a fall.

Heading up the new study, senior report author Stephen Lord of the University of New South Wales in Australia said: "Strength and balance are both important for physical functioning. In terms of fall prevention, the best evidence is for balance and step training."

The report details how regular stepping exercises could lead to better reaction times and decision-making where a fall might occur, as well as reducing the time it took for the participants to get up and down from a seated position.

Step training could be part of an overall regime incorporating gentle exercises that reflect the activities elderly people are likely to do in everyday life. Walking, standing on one foot, reaching, shifting weight, stair walking and squatting can all improve gait and help to build up ease with these activities over time.

Dr Elizabeth Joy, medical director for community health at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City explains: "For an older adult trying to maintain independent living, they need function-specific training. Walking, getting up out of a chair, getting up off the floor, those are the activities they need to do."