“My personal buzz has been seeing groups of residents enjoying themselves, the pride in their faces, telling their families that they’re going to the gym for a workout. It’s that sort of intangible thing that has most motivated me.”
The discovery that exercise therapy was considered the norm for the greater community yet only passive physiotherapy was government funded for aged care residents led Feros Care physiotherapist, Jennie Hewitt to run a four year research trial to demonstrate its value and inform the government funding model.
“I was shocked that massage and electrical devices for pain relief were funded and yet therapeutic exercise programs were not,” Jennie said. “I set out to find scientific evidence to dispute this approach and discovered there was very little resident specific research available.”
Jennie wanted to change both the health funding structures and also attitudes about physiotherapy within aged care. She realised the best way to do this was to prove the value of strength and balance exercises using a clinical trial.
In 2012 Jennie began conducting a four-year scientific study through The University of Sydney into how a tailored exercise program can help reduce falls among residents in aged care facilities.
Her research involved 221 participants in 16 Villages. The average age was 86.7 years old, with the oldest being 102!
The study measured falls per person, as well as quality of life and mobility. A cost-effectiveness analysis will also be performed to inform policy makers.
Eight residential aged care facilities were assigned to the exercise group while eight carried on as usual. Participants in the exercise groups were assessed by a physiotherapist and prescribed an individualised progressive resistance training program using gym equipment. They also performed a circuit of high level balance exercises at each session. Classes were in groups of up to 10 participants and lasted one hour.
As well as falls-prevention, Jennie said that quality and enjoyment of life, and social participation are also the major benefits of exercise for residents in aged care.
“We have had some great stories from the residents who joined the exercise programs” says Jennie. “One of our participants is 93 and reported slipping on wet tiles, ‘I felt myself project forward suddenly but I just kept moving and felt the strength in my legs and abdomen, I saved myself! If it wasn’t for these exercises I’d have landed flat on my face’ she said.”
“Another woman approached me at one of the villages in Sydney and said ‘Thank you so much for what you have done for my mother with this gym program, she used to be in and out of hospital every month with falls but she hasn’t fallen once in the six months since she started the program—it’s amazing!’”
All the data collected is currently being analysed. “We can’t divulge numbers just yet as this trial will be submitted for peer review and publication in an international journal over the next few months, however we can say that the exercise program has proven a significant reduction in falls can be achieved,” Jennie said.
She has also been contacted by peak bodies to write best practice guidelines for physiotherapy for aged care residents.
“There’s no doubt that the study and the data collected are important to inform policy and make best practice recommendations, but the individual stories about lives changed — well they are priceless!” says Jennie.
Jennie presented her research at the 2016 World Congress of Active Ageing.
See Jennie and our residents in action http://bit.ly/Feros_StrongMindBody