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In 2021, a study into an innovative balance exercise program, Standing Tall, found it helped reduce the rate of falls in older people by up to 20%.

Published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the two-year trial of more than 500 Australians aged 70 and over observed that the home-based e-health balance exercise program, containing over 6,000 exercises, provided an effective, self-managed fall prevention program for older people living independently.

Now, the research-only app is set to be turned into a commercial offering after lead researcher Professor Kim Delbaere, Senior Principal Research Scientist at the Falls, Balance and Injury Research Centre at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), received $1.3 million in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to make the program accessible to more people.

One of the leading causes of death among people aged over 65, falls are a growing problem worldwide.

For Professor Delbaere, a trained physiotherapist originally from Belgium, her fascination with preventing falls and injury traces back to her grandmother and great Aunty, both whom were ageing and navigating how to keep active later in life. Academically, she was also intrigued by how the body changes as we age, and looking at ways to introduce targeted intervention programs to ease the transition.

About five years ago, Professor Delbaere and researchers began exploring ways to deliver exercise programs to older people.

When tackling falls prevention, two hours of balance exercise per week is ideal, yet, meeting the target is harder for some than others, she says.

“That’s what sparked our interest in trying to make it [the program] as convenient as possible to do, with the right exercises, high-dose, challenging balance exercises.”

After consulting older people set to use the program, the team settled upon the iPad as the most convenient piece of technology to roll out the exercises.

The result gave users the feeling of having a health professional alongside them to demonstrate tailored exercises.

At six months, the study showed about 80-85% of people were reaching two hours of balance exercises per week.

“We were able to show that we could prevent falls and we could also prevent injury from falls by 20%, so that was very exciting,” Professor Delbaere says.

With new funding, the challenge now is to further evaluate the research-only app and develop it to make it scalable. The three-year project will begin with the Australian market before branching out internationally. Aged care providers have already shown interest in using the platform to help residents achieve a better quality of life.

“We want to make sure that falls is not just seen as a part of getting older,” Professor Delbaere says.

“It is something we can prevent. A fall or an injury or a fracture is definitely something that can cost a person independence but just being able to be more mobile will improve people’s quality of life.”