Objectives To determine whether a lifestyle integrated approach to balance and strength training is effective in reducing the rate of falls in older, high risk people living at home.
Design Three arm, randomised parallel trial; assessments at baseline and after six and 12 months. Randomisation done by computer generated random blocks, stratified by sex and fall history and concealed by an independent secure website.
Setting Residents in metropolitan Sydney, Australia.
Participants Participants aged 70 years or older who had two or more falls or one injurious fall in past 12 months, recruited from Veteran’s Affairs databases and general practice databases. Exclusion criteria were moderate to severe cognitive problems, inability to ambulate independently, neurological conditions that severely influenced gait and mobility, resident in a nursing home or hostel, or any unstable or terminal illness that would affect ability to do exercises.
Interventions Three home based interventions: Lifestyle integrated Functional Exercise (LiFE) approach (n=107; taught principles of balance and strength training and integrated selected activities into everyday routines), structured programme (n=105; exercises for balance and lower limb strength, done three times a week), sham control programme (n=105; gentle exercise). LiFE and structured groups received five sessions with two booster visits and two phone calls; controls received three home visits and six phone calls. Assessments made at baseline and after six and 12 months.
Main outcome measures Primary measure: rate of falls over 12 months, collected by self report. Secondary measures: static and dynamic balance; ankle, knee and hip strength; balance self efficacy; daily living activities; participation; habitual physical activity; quality of life; energy expenditure; body mass index; and fat free mass.
Results After 12 months’ follow-up, we recorded 172, 193, and 224 falls in the LiFE, structured exercise, and control groups, respectively. The overall incidence of falls in the LiFE programme was 1.66 per person years, compared with 1.90 in the structured programme and 2.28 in the control group. We saw a significant reduction of 31% in the rate of falls for the LiFE programme compared with controls (incidence rate ratio 0.69 (95% confidence interval 0.48 to 0.99)); the corresponding difference between the structured group and controls was non-significant (0.81 (0.56 to 1.17)). Static balance on an eight level hierarchy scale, ankle strength, function, and participation were significantly better in the LiFE group than in controls. LiFE and structured groups had a significant and moderate improvement in dynamic balance, compared with controls.
Conclusions The LiFE programme provides an alternative to traditional exercise to consider for fall prevention. Functional based exercise should be a focus for interventions to protect older, high risk people from falling and to improve and maintain functional capacity.
Trial registration Australia and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry 12606000025538.