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Daily functional movement in elderly patients 'reduces risk of falls'

A programme that encourages older people to include functional movements into their everyday life reduces the incidence of falls by 30% compared with controls, say researchers.

An Australian study found movements that improved balance or strength reduced the risk of falls compared with a structured exercise programme.

The study looked at 317 men and women aged 70 years or older who had suffered two or more falls in the previous 12 months, and randomised each participant into one of three treatment groups – functional movements, a structured exercise or a control group that did gentle flexibility exercises.

Those in the functional movements group were encouraged to make regular movements, such as squatting to pick something from a low shelf as opposed to bending at the waist, or tandem walking while moving to the kitchen.

The functional movements group produced a clinically significant 31% reduction in the rate of falls compared with the control group. The overall incidence of falls with functional movements was 1.66 per person-years, compared with 1.90 in the exercise group and 2.28 in controls.

The researchers from the University of Sydney concluded: ‘Functional-based exercise should be a focus for protection from falling and for improving and maintaining functional capacity for older people at risk [of falls].'

BMJ 2012, online 7 August

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