Fall-prevention technology helps seniors stand tall

Wednesday, 15 July, 2020

Fall-prevention technology helps seniors stand tall

Each year, one-third of people over 65 years of age experience a major fall, and half of those will fall again in the same year. This makes falls the leading cause of hospitalisation among older people.

Research shows that people can lessen their likelihood of falls by completing two hours of balance exercises each week for a six-month period. On top of gaining and retaining independence, older Australians who do these exercises are less likely to incur the expensive healthcare-related costs associated with falls.

StandingTall is an app that offers individually tailored exercises to older Australians so that they are able to exercise independently at home. Developed using the latest insights in geriatric and translational neuroscience, the app employs mobile (tablet) technology to deliver an effective method for improving balance and reducing fall risk.

Despite the national physical activity guidelines, many older Australians do not get the recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise. StandingTall helps people achieve this by providing safe balance training programs that guide users through a series of movements within the time interval of their choice.

Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) researcher Associate Professor Kim Delbaere and her team designed the app alongside The Project Factory. The team hopes to make the app available to the general public once trials — taking place in NSW, Victoria and Northern England (UK) — are complete.

Associate Professor Delbaere is working with community groups and allied health service providers in community settings, hospitals, rehabilitation centres and retirement villages throughout NSW. This will enable the team to establish integrated processes and pathways to deliver StandingTall to older people in the future. Their model will improve access to a home-based, individualised exercise program appropriate for preventing falls in older people, including those living in regional and remote areas.

Among the StandingTall features are more than 2000 different balance exercises tailored to certain abilities, a calendar to schedule exercise sessions and a goal-setting feature to keep users motivated. The app also keeps a record of the user’s training so they can track their progress.

To qualify to trial the app, people must be aged 65 years or older and live independently in the Sydney metropolitan area, Melbourne, Mid-North Coast or Northern NSW. The app is of particular relevance to those who have had a fall in the last six months or have current concerns about falling.

The researchers ask that only participants without progressive neurological conditions — such as Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis or dementia — apply. At present, researchers have replaced all face-to-face assessments and home-visits with remote methods, such as telehealth.

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