Background: Stepping impairments are associated with physical and cognitive decline in older adults and increased fall risk. Exercise interventions can reduce fall risk, but adherence is often low. A new exergame involving step training may provide an enjoyable exercise alternative for preventing falls in older people.
Purpose: To assess the feasibility and safety of unsupervised, home-based step pad training and determine the effectiveness of this intervention on stepping performance and associated fall risk in older people.
Design: Single-blinded two-arm randomized controlled trial comparing step pad training with control (no-intervention).
Setting/participants: Thirty-seven older adults residing in independent-living units of a retirement village in Sydney, Australia.
Intervention: Intervention group (IG) participants were provided with a computerized step pad system connected to their TVs and played a step game as often as they liked (with a recommended dose of 2-3 sessions per week for 15-20 minutes each) for eight weeks. In addition, IG participants were asked to complete a choice stepping reaction time (CSRT) task once each week.
Main outcome measures: CSRT, the Physiological Profile Assessment (PPA), neuropsychological and functional mobility measures were assessed at baseline and eight week follow-up.
Results: Thirty-two participants completed the study (86.5%). IG participants played a median 2.75 sessions/week and no adverse events were reported. Compared to the control group, the IG significantly improved their CSRT (F31,1 = 18.203, p<.001), PPA composite scores (F31,1 = 12.706, p = 0.001), as well as the postural sway (F31,1 = 4.226, p = 0.049) and contrast sensitivity (F31,1 = 4.415, p = 0.044) PPA sub-component scores. In addition, the IG improved significantly in their dual-task ability as assessed by a timed up and go test/verbal fluency task (F31,1 = 4.226, p = 0.049).
Conclusions: Step pad training can be safely undertaken at home to improve physical and cognitive parameters of fall risk in older people without major cognitive and physical impairments.
Trial registration: Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN12611001081909.