PT Students’ Community-Based Research Projects Aimed to Prevent Falls in Seniors

Written by Lauren Whetzel-Siburkis
Published on May 1, 2016

stretching people

Falling is bad news for senior citizens — oftentimes resulting in life-changing injuries, such as hip fractures and head traumas, and an increased risk of early death. However, new research findings at University of the Sciences into how and why seniors fall may provide healthcare providers with insight into improved balance and strength-training strategies to prevent tumbles by the elderly.

“One in three individuals over the age of 65 experiences a fall,” said CAROL A. MARITZ, PT, EdD, a board-certified geriatric clinical specialist and physical therapy professor at USciences. “However, aside from our findings, current overall research lacks evidence regarding the impact of a short-term balance-based exercised regimen on community-dwelling older adults.”

quoteUnder the guidance of Dr. Maritz, physical therapy students completed a study that explored the effectiveness of a five-week balance-training exercise program designed to focus on lower extremity strength, balance, and fear of falling in seniors over the age of 60. The student researchers worked closely with more than a dozen men and women at a senior center in Northeast Philadelphia and tailored the exercise program to each participant’s needs.

“In real life, we [physical therapists] probably aren’t going to be able to see a patient for 12 weeks,” said LAURA CARIGNAN DPT’15. “So our idea was to conduct this research in a clinical setting and work with the elderly patients realistically, twice a week, for five weeks, and we got really good results with that.”

The study results found that a short-term balance program can improve lower extremity strength, balance confidence, and functional mobility in the older population; thereby, reducing their risk of falling. Even though there were no significant changes in dynamic balance, there was a positive trend suggesting the benefit of a short-term training program.

Other members of this research team included NATALIE FARAH DPT’15, CHANELE CRISWELL DPT’15, CHRISTINE SANDILANDS DPT’15, SONA SINGH DPT’15, and TARA GANNON DPT’15.

With her strong clinical background in geriatrics, Dr. Maritz also oversaw another student research project that evaluated an existing group-based strength and balance program designed for active seniors who live on their own. More than a dozen men and women, between the ages of 67 and 91, were recruited from Mount Zion Baptist Church, a local church, to participate in this study.

A team of physical therapy students held a 60-minute group exercise class for seniors twice a week for 10 weeks, and the program was modeled after an existing moderate- to high-intensity exercise program.

“Most current research indicates that 12 weeks to 12 months of group exercise programs are effective in improving lower extremity strength and balance in seniors,” said MICHAEL SOYA DPT’15. “However, these lengthier programs do not emphasize the intensity at which the seniors exercise.”

Dr. Soya said that his research team — which included BRIAN CHAN DPT’15, JESSICA THOMAS DPT’15, and ANNA WALSKI DPT’15 — discovered that their moderate- to high-intensity 10-week exercise program led to significant improvements in outcome measures correlated with the risk of falls in seniors.

“My research team believes that group-based strengthening and balance training programs should be recommended to geriatric patients,” said Dr. Soya. “More particularly, we encourage physical therapists to emphasize the importance of moderate- to high-intensity exercises to challenge older patients and produce meaningful results.”


Categories: The Bulletin, Department of Physical Therapy, Physical Therapy, Research, Students

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