Comparative effects of home- and group-based exercise on balance confidence and balance ability in older adults: cluster randomized trial

Elizabeth V Cyarto, Wendy J Brown, Alison L Marshall, Stewart G Trost
Gerontology 2008, 54 (5): 272-80

BACKGROUND: Exercise can modify fall risk factors such as balance and mobility impairments. However, can exercise improve balance confidence? In one strength-training study, researchers reported that a change in balance confidence was not uniformly associated with changes in objective measures of fall risk or physical performance. In fact, some participants' balance confidence decreased while their physical abilities increased and vice versa.

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to compare changes in balance confidence and balance ability resulting from three exercise interventions (home-based resistance and balance training (RBT), group-based RBT and group-based walking), and the concomitant relationships between change in balance confidence and change in ability. It was hypothesized that participants in the group-based RBT program would improve their balance confidence and performance more than those in the home-based or walking programs.

METHODS: In a cluster-randomized design, nine retirement villages were assigned to one of the three exercise groups. One hundred and sixty-seven independent-living residents (aged 65-96 years) participated. Each group exercised twice weekly for 20 weeks. Objective balance ability was measured using timed tandem and one-leg stands (static balance), and the 8-foot (2.5 m) up-and-go test (dynamic balance/agility). Balance confidence was assessed using the self-report Activities-specific Balance Confidence (ABC) Scale.

RESULTS: Participants in the group-based RBT program improved their static balance scores more than those in the home-based program; however, improvements in balance confidence were greater among participants in the home-based program (all p < 0.05). Discordance between static balance and balance confidence change scores was evident for up to 20% of participants. Change in ABC score was weakly correlated with a change in the up-and-go test score.

CONCLUSIONS: Exercise training can improve balance confidence and balance ability in retirement village residents. However, as has been shown previously, this study found that exercise interventions may improve balance ability without associated increases in balance confidence and vice versa. Whether the ABC score and balance ability can be enhanced by providing a tailored intervention to improve balance confidence in combination with a RBT program requires further study.

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