Results of a study analyzing the effects of a physical therapy program in preventing falls among elderly persons in Singapore suggest that PT may have an influence, not only on the falls’ severity, but—in certain patients—their occurrence overall.

In addition, results suggest that physical therapy participation helped slow the deterioration of functional decline, as well as reduced the risk of falls that require medical attention or restrict daily activities by almost 50%.

The Steps to Avoid Falls in Elderly (SAFE) study, conducted by a research team from Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) in Singapore, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), Changi General Hospital (CGH), and Agency for Integrated Care, was published recently in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

In the study, led by Professor David Matchar, Director of the Health Services and Systems Research Programme at Duke-NUS, 354 elderly participants who previously sought medical attention at emergency departments for a fall or fall-related injuries were randomly assigned to the intervention group, where they received tailored and intensive physical therapy, or the control group, where they received no structured physical therapy beyond the usual services, according to a media release from Duke University.

The participants were followed over a period of 9 months. Every month, all participants reported whether they had suffered a fall in the previous month, as well as its severity.

The researchers note that although participation in a physical therapy program did not reduce the number of falls in the elderly, it did significantly reduce the severity of falls and slowed the deterioration of physical decline.

In addition, the research team suggests that patient health may have an influence on the success of physical therapy in preventing falls. Among the patients who suffered no more than one major medical condition, those that received physical therapy reported significantly fewer falls overall, reducing the fall risk in this group by almost 70%, the release adds.

“What is also particularly interesting about this study is that the elderly in Singapore seem to fall less than their counterparts worldwide. Whether this is from reduced mobility due to the assistance of their families and caregivers, or due to some other reason is yet to be determined, and something we are currently working on,” Matchar adds, in the release.

“Singapore is facing the challenge of a rapidly aging population, and we are certainly seeing more elderly who turn up at the SGH Emergency Department after falls. The fall often triggers a progressive decline with fear of falling, reduced mobility, and difficulty with self-care. Through SAFE, the customized falls reduction exercise program, conducted in the groups or at home, can assist the elderly in reduced risk of serious falls,” states Associate Professor Marcus Ong, Senior Consultant, Department of Emergency Medicine and site principal investigator at SGH, in the release.

[Source(s): Duke University, MedicalXPress]