Senior’s Exercise Park making strides to help older Australians stay on their feet
The Senior’s Exercise Park located at our social centre in Mandurah is designed to improve strength, balance, coordination and flexibility with the aim of reducing the risk of falling.
The Mandurah Senior’s Exercise Park is the first one of its kind in WA, although the concept has been utilised in Europe and Asia. The park provides a safe, supervised environment for seniors to take part in physical activity and, remarkably, it was funded by generous donations from the community.
Reducing falls risk is one of the major benefits
Exercise programs are proven to reduce the risk of falls because they improve muscle strength, flexibility and balance. It helps seniors to regain confidence in their abilities to carry out tasks in day to day life and keep their independence.
"I never thought I could do it at my age – I really didn’t."
The Senior’s Exercise Park offers a challenging experience. The exercises include practicing with different surfaces, dual tasking, instability, visual challenges and planning. It prepares the client for the real world, out in their local community. The park is situated in an open area and surrounded by nature. And it’s fun! Clients are loving it. Here’s what they’re saying:
'I want to come' 'I enjoy it' 'It’s never boring' 'I feel like a teenager!' Wow.. it’s an amazing environment out here with nature and the equipment”
At the moment, our clients have exclusive access to use the exercise park, supported by our highly skilled care team. Eligible clients are assessed by a Silver Chain physiotherapist, who then develops a personalised exercise program for each of them.
In stage two, the park will be open for groups and community users.
Why it works
The park works well because it replicates real-life community challenges that may not exist in home or hospital, such as: a spongy surface that is like grass; unstable surfaces like the swing bridge; ramps and steps; and challenging spatial information in the rope course.
We’ve not only seen great results in patients’ enjoyment and confidence, but our physiotherapists report positive results clinically.
'My walking has improved. I said to my daughter, “Come on, you’re walking slow. Come on, get into gear!”'
To date, 9 clients have participated in a pilot study at the new exercise park, with their ability measured at the start and end of the program. The results show truly positive change in the mobility, strength and balance of the seniors in this group.
There are three tests carried out to assess the outcomes:
1. Functional mobility
‘Functional mobility’ is a comprehensive assessment given to all physio clients. It looks at overall mobility, an important indicator of the health status of older people.
To measure this, we use the de Morton Mobility Index (DEMMI) – an internationally-used scoring system. DEMMI designates a ‘Minimum ClinicalIy Important Difference’, which means we are looking to see a change in score of at least 8 (de Morton et al, 2008).
The average change amongst the trial group was 25.67, and the range of change is 10–43, which is incredibly positive. All participants recorded a change, showing overall benefit from completing the program.
2. Sit to stand
The second test measures strength using the sit to stand motion – often a movement that can be slow or unsteady, but also one that uses many muscles in the body.
People aged 65+ are considered at risk of falls if it takes them more than 15 seconds to do 5 continuous sit to stand movements (Buatois, 2010).
At the start of the trial, 7 out of the 9 participants were considered ‘at risk’ - but by the end, none (0) of the participants were. The average change in time taken to complete the exercise was a decrease in 9.7 seconds!
3. Step test
The final exercise was a step test, which assesses dynamic balance by measuring how many leg raises can be completed in 15 seconds. An amount less than 10 indicates the person is at risk of a fall (Blennerhasset et al, 2012).
At the start of the trial, 6 of the 9 participants recorded a falls risk, completing less than 10 steps on both their left and right sides.
After completing the program, there were no participants who were still at risk using this approach.
Overall strength, balance and mobility will help quality of life
From our early results, and the experience of other groups nationally and internationally, the exercise park program improved physical function and had high participation rate.
With one in three people over the age of 65 experiencing a fall, this is the leading cause of injury hospitalisation for older people and can often lead to a fall in confidence as well. We’re hoping to extend access to the Seniors’ Exercise Park program to help more seniors stay strong, mobile and independent.
Blennerhassett, J. M., Dite, W., et al. (2012). “Changes in balance and walking from stroke rehabilitation to the community: A follow-up observational study.” Arch Phys Med Rehabil 93(10): 1782-1787.
Buatois, S., Perret-Guillaume, C., et al. (2010). “A simple clinical scale to stratify risk of recurrent falls in community-dwelling adults aged 65 years and older.” Phys Ther 90(4): 550-560.
deMorton, N., Davidson, M., Keating, K.L. (2008). “The de Morton Mobility Index (DEMMI): An essential health index for an ageing world”. Health Qual Life Outcomes 2008; 6: 63
Watch our video to see how the exercise park helped Margaret increase her strength.