Falls are common in elderly people. Possible consequences include serious injuries and the post-fall syndrome, with functional decline and limitation of physical activity. The present randomized controlled study sought to clarify the benefits of a combined long-term and home-based fall prevention program for elderly Japanese women. The subjects were individuals aged over 73 years, living at home in a western suburb of Tokyo, who had attended a comprehensive geriatric health check. Persons with a marked decline in the basic activities of daily living (ADL), hemiplegia, or those missing baseline data were excluded. Fifty-two subjects who expressed a wish to participate in the trial were randomized, 28 to an exercise-intervention group and 24 to a control group. Baseline data for age, handgrip force, walking speed, total serum cholesterol, serum albumin, basic ADL, visual and auditory impairments, self-rated health, and experience of falls did not differ significantly between the two groups. Beginning from June 2000, the intervention group attended a 6-month program of fall-prevention exercise classes aimed at improving leg strength, balance, and walking ability; this was supplemented by a home-based exercise program that focused on leg strength. The control group received only a pamphlet and advice on fall prevention. The average rate of attendance at exercise class was 75.3% (range, 64% to 86%). Participants showed significant improvements in tandem walk and functional reach after the intervention program, with enhanced self confidence. At the 8-month follow-up, the proportion of women with falls was 13.6% (3/22) in the intervention group and 40.9% (9/22) in the control group. At 20 months, the proportion remained unchanged, at 13.6% in the intervention group, but had increased to 54.5% (12/22) in the control group, which showed a statistically significant difference between the two groups (Fisher's exact test; P = 0.0097). The total number of falls during the 20-month follow-up period was 6 in the intervention group and 17 in the control group. We conclude that a moderate exercise intervention program plus a home-based program significantly decreases the incidence of falls in both the short and the long term, contributing to improved health and quality of life in the elderly.
Copyright 2004 Springer-Verlag