1 in 3 people over the age of 65 will have a fall each year. This increases to 1 in 2 people over 80 years of age.
A recent grant from the NORTH Foundation provided funding for an Outdoor Seniors Gym ‐ an innovative project that expands current rehabilitation programs and promotes community well‐being at Mona Vale Hospital (MVH).
Older people are at a higher risk for hospitalised falls due to lower bone density, reduced muscle tone and conditions affecting balance and eyesight. These factors can also impact the ability to recover from a fall and quality of life after a fall.
The Australian population is ageing rapidly, and more Australians are at risk of frailty which is associated with poor health outcomes, additional cost to the health service, and mortality.
One way to prevent falls and reverse frailty is to stay physically active with a targeted exercise program which includes a progressive strengthening program, as well as challenging balance activities.
The outdoor gym is used by inpatient rehabilitation and community patients under the supervision of physiotherapists and is a fresh air alternative to the existing rehabilitation gym within the Hospital complex.
The aim of the outdoor gym is to assist with improving mental alertness, strength, mobility, coordination and balance. Exercises as part of the Fresh Air Fitness Classes are designed to help with everyday activities such as walking on uneven surfaces, up and down stairs and getting up from a chair. The classes are a novel way to provide a fun but physically stimulating environment.
Balance exercises MUST be challenging to have an effect on falls prevention. Challenging balance exercise programs that are progressed as the patient improves can reduce falls by up to 50%.
Research shows that exercise needs to be continued three times a week for the rest of a person’s life. The aim is at the conclusion of the program, patients will be confident and motivated to continue exercising at home or at their local park independently or in a community class.
Exercising outdoors has many positive effects on the life of the elderly both physically and mentally. Social interaction, fresh air and observing the change of the seasons helps relieve anxiety and brings a rhythm to the day.
Lorna suffers from severe arthritis in her knee which would buckle randomly and collapse beneath her. Within the past year, 86-year-old Lorna has gradually lost her confidence after suffering a few falls and she was referred to Mona Vale Hospital Rehabilitation & Aged Care Service (RACS) to help improve her mobility and strength.
“I really enjoy coming to the Fresh Air Fitness Classes in the Outdoor Seniors Gym,” said Lorna. “They are fun but challenging and I love being outdoors.”
Physiotherapist Tina who works at RACS says that Lorna has shown significant improvement in her balance outcomes. She has been doing exercises to improve the strength of her arthritic knee and she has not experienced any further buckling of the knee, thus reducing her falls risk.
On a recent day trip on the Hawkesbury River, Lorna felt very confident walking on the unsteady surface of the boat. She had almost cancelled the trip as she didn’t think she could manage; however, she was pleasantly surprised at how easy it had been for her and she enjoyed her outing on the river.
“Lorna has been a very enthusiastic and energetic participant in the outdoor classes,” says Tina. “Her positivity and joy are infectious. She absolutely beams when she is outdoors and conquers challenging exercise tasks. She is very appreciative of the changes she has seen in her everyday life after attending the Fresh Air Fitness Classes.”
Since his stroke two years ago, 75-year-old Stan suffered from reduced balance and loss of confidence. While he was very active prior to his stroke, he has had a few falls and many near misses, so his GP referred him to the Falls Prevention Program at RACS.
“The exercises are challenging,” says Stan. “It offers a greater variety of exercises than those in the indoor gym.”
Stan is gaining the knowledge and confidence to continue exercising at home every day for an hour. He is seeing improvements in getting in and out of a chair with ease, in addition to confidence with his walking and balance when he is out and about within his community.
“Stan has astounded us with his potential to improve each week with the challenging tasks we have set,” said Tina. “We are encouraging him to pursue independent exercise options when he concludes our program and will guide him with options available.”
The staff at RACS enjoy seeing the benefits the Outdoor Seniors Gym continues to bring to patients by helping to improve their balance and in turn, their quality of life.
The build of the Outdoor Seniors Gym was made possible by a grant from the NSLHD and NORTH Foundation Grants Program. If you would like to also support projects like this, please click here to make a donation.