Most Effective Interventions to Improve Gait and Balance
Mobility is a key success factor in a person’s ability to remain physically active and independent for as long as possible, especially for older adults. Research also indicates that mobility disability increases dramatically with age, is more common in women than men, and is more prevalent in nonwhites than whites. (Freedman et al., 2013). Physical activity, including walking, balance exercises, and strength training programs are recognized interventions to improve older adults’ balance and gait as well as increase their strength and flexibility; all of these benefits play a role in an older adult’s health and well-being as they age.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) routinely updates their publication, Compendium of Effective Fall Interventions: What Works for Community-Dwelling Older Adults. It summarizes fall prevention studies published in peer-reviewed literature and categorizes interventions as multi-faceted, addressing multiple fall risk factors, or single, addressing a single risk factor, such as gait and balance. The single interventions are further categorized as exercise, home modification, and clinical solutions. Each intervention contains a program summary, study results, and additional program details.
A couple of highlighted exercise programs to improve gait and mobility include:
- The Otago Exercise Program – a widely-used, individually-tailored, home-based program offering muscle-strengthening and balance-retraining exercises of increasing difficulty, combined with a walking program.
- Tai Chi: Moving for Better Balance – focused on improved balance and physical performance with Tai Chi classes designed for older adults.
Connection to Hendrich II Fall Risk Model®
Impaired mobility and gait, as tested by the Rising from a Chair test, increases a patient’s fall risk. The Hendrich study found this single item from the full Timed Get Up and Go test was enough as a screen to identify increased fall risk. A more thorough assessment should be completed if the Rising from a Chair and taking a few steps is ineffective. By helping older adults improve their strength and mobility, we support their efforts to reduce their fall risk and preserve what matters most to them: their independence, strength, the lifestyles they cherish, and the activities they enjoy.
Freedman et al., 2013. “Trends in late life activity limitation in the United States. An update on five national surveys.” Demography, 50(2),661-671.
Stevens, J.A., Burns, E.R., 2015. “A CDC Compendium of Effective Fall Interventions: What Works for Community-Dwelling Older Adults.” 3rd ed. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Retrieved on June 20, 2019.