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Vol. 50, No. 6, 2004
Issue release date: November–December 2004
Gerontology 2004;50:373–382

Balance Confidence Improves with Resistance or Agility Training

Increase Is Not Correlated with Objective Changes in Fall Risk and Physical Abilities

Liu-Ambrose T. · Khan K.M. · Eng J.J. · Lord S.R. · McKay H.A.
aSchool of Human Kinetics, and bSchool of Rehabilitation Sciences, University of British Columbia; cRehabilitation Research Laboratory, GF Strong Rehabilitation Center; dDepartment of Family Practice, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada; ePrince of Wales Medical Research Institute, UNSW, Randwick, Sydney, Australia; fDepartment of Orthopaedics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada1

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Background: While the fear of falling is a common psychological consequence of falling, older adults who have not fallen also frequently report this fear. Fear of falling can lead to activity restriction that is self-imposed rather than due to actual physical impairments. Evidence suggests that exercise can significantly improve balance confidence, as measured by falls-related self-efficacy scales. However, there are no prospective reports that correlate change in balance confidence with changes in fall risk and physical abilities as induced by participating in a group-based exercise program. Objective: The primary purpose of this prospective study was to examine the relationship between the change in balance confidence and the changes in fall risk and physical abilities in older women with confirmed low bone mass after 13 weeks of exercise participation. The secondary purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between the change in balance confidence and the change in physical activity level. Methods: The sample comprised 98 women aged 75–85 years with low bone mass. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: resistance training (n = 32), agility training (n = 34), and stretching (sham) exercises (n = 32). The 50-min exercise classes for each study arm were held twice weekly at a local YMCA community centre. Results: Both resistance training and agility training significantly improved balance confidence by 6% from baseline after 13 weeks. However, the change in balance confidence was only weakly correlated with improved general physical function and not significantly correlated with the changes in fall risk score, postural stability, gait speed, or physical activity level. As well, we observed balance confidence enhancement in the presence of increased fall risk or deterioration in physical abilities. Conclusions: Two different types of exercise training improved balance confidence in older women with low bone mass. This change in balance confidence was significantly correlated with change in general physical function. Because of the observation of discordance between balance confidence change and changes in fall risk and physical abilities, those who design group-based exercise programs for community-dwelling older adults may wish to consider including an education component on factors that influence fear of falling. Objective changes in fall risk factors cannot be assumed to mirror change in fear of falling and physical abilities in older adults in the short-term.

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