Exercise for improving balance in older people

T E Howe, L Rochester, A Jackson, P M H Banks, V A Blair
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, (4): CD004963

BACKGROUND: Diminished ability to maintain balance may be associated with an increased risk of falling. In older adults, falls commonly lead to injury, loss of independence, associated illness and early death. Although some exercise interventions with balance and muscle strengthening components have been shown to reduce falls it is not known which elements, or combination of elements, of exercise interventions are most effective for improving balance in older people.

OBJECTIVES: To present the best evidence for effectiveness of exercise interventions designed to improve balance in older people living in the community or in institutional care.

SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched the Cochrane Bone, Joint and Muscle Trauma Group Specialised Register (Feb 2006), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2006, Issue 1), MEDLINE (1966 to February 2006), EMBASE (1980 to February 2006), other databases and reference lists of articles. No language restrictions were applied.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials and quasi-randomised trials testing exercise interventions designed to improve balance in older people were included. We excluded trials of interventions targeting individuals with specific conditions in order not to broaden the scope of this review too widely. Trials were included where participants were randomised to receive the following: a single exercise intervention or a multiple exercise intervention and a control group (usual activities or attention or recreational activity). Trials comparing two or more exercise interventions and a control group were also included.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Three pairs of members of the review team independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. For each trial, relative risk and 95% confidence intervals were calculated for dichotomous outcomes, and mean differences and 95% confidence intervals calculated for continuous outcomes. Where appropriate, results of comparable groups of trials were pooled and 95% confidence intervals calculated.

MAIN RESULTS: For the 34 included studies there were 2883 participants at entry. Statistically significant improvements in balance ability were observed for exercise interventions compared to usual activity. Interventions involving gait; balance; co-ordination and functional exercises; muscle strengthening; and multiple exercise types appear to have the greatest impact on indirect measures of balance. There was trend towards an improvement in balance with cycling on a static cycle. However, there was limited evidence that effects were long-lasting.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Exercise appears to have statistically significant beneficial effects on balance ability in the short term but the strength of evidence contained within these trials is limited. Many of these mainly small studies demonstrated a range of methodological weaknesses. The failure across the included studies to apply a core set of standardised outcome measures to determine balance ability restricts the capacity to compare or pool different trials from which firm conclusions regarding efficacy can be made. Further standardisation in timing of outcome assessment is also required as is longer term follow-up of outcomes to determine any lasting effects.

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