Every senior living professional knows that falls are an incredibly difficult barrier for active, independent senior living. Just one fall can completely transform an older adult’s life, increasing their required level of care and, in many cases, locking them into a cycle of frailty that’s difficult to get out of.
According to the National Council on Aging, every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall, and every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall. The average hospital cost for a fall injury is over $30,000. In 2013, the total cost of fall injuries was $34 billion and is expected to rise to $67.7 billion by 2020.
Falls are a big deal. They are also largely preventable. As a result, many senior-focused fitness centers are committed to transitioning to senior-friendly exercise equipment and training programs with the intention of reducing the number of falls amongst seniors in their care.
However, one of the challenges is deciding amongst the thousands of equipment options on the market.
To help narrow down the options, we reviewed 5 types of balance and strength training equipment that we believe every senior-focused fitness center should consider in order to improve falls prevention within their communities:
- Balance Assessment Equipment
- Cognitive Exer-Gaming Equipment
- Computerized Training Equipment
- Automated Progressive Resistance Equipment
- Pneumatic (Air-Resistance) Equipment
Here’s why each of these pieces can dramatically decrease the number of falls for the older adults in your community.
#1. Balance Assessment Equipment
One of the biggest challenges to getting more seniors involved in a fall prevention program is convincing them that they are at a high risk of having a fall. This is especially true for active, healthy seniors who might not feel like they are at risk, but in many cases are.
That’s why having at least one piece of equipment that can assess and evaluate balance and identify users with a high risk of falls is the first step towards effective community-wide fall prevention. Assessment not only identifies each individual’s level of risk, it allows care professionals to design a training program that is customized to each senior’s needs.
When properly used, assessment equipment should be an ongoing part of everyone’s fall prevention program, tracking progress and comparing tests over time to track improvements in balance. You may also be able to obtain recommendations on customized training programs for individuals, depending on the type of balance equipment you utilize.
When choosing Assessment Equipment, here are the key features to look for:
- Assessments Based on Romberg's and Limit's of Stability
- Clear Graphical Reporting
- Balance Scores for Progress Tracking
- Balance Test Comparisons
- Customized Training Recommendations
- Training Simulating Everyday Movements to Support ADL’s
- Wheelchair Accessibility
- Low Insteps, Support Rails and Wide Platforms
“When we get [residents] on the HUR SmartBalance and run an assessment, many are surprised by how their balance is deteriorating. This allows us to create a program for them early, before they fall, or before their lack of balance starts to prevent them from doing what they love.”
NORTH HILL | USA - SENIOR LIVING COMMUNITY
#2. Cognitive Exergaming Equipment
We know that resistance training and fall prevention programs promoting balance through building core strength and muscle memory decrease the rate of falls in senior populations. But, there is a third contributor to fall risk that, has been largely ignored: A breakdown in executive functioning.
Recent research suggests that there is an important link between physical exercise and cognitive abilities. And, it appears that falls are largely a cognitive problem. Cognitive exer-gaming equipment is designed to close this gap by supporting both physical and cognitive functioning at the same time.
Not all exergaming programs and equipment are effective for fall prevention. When selecting equipment, look for the following features:
- Cognition and Fall Assessment Tests
- Dual-Tasking: performing a cognitive and motor task at the same time
- Games Simulating Everyday Movements to Support ADL’s
- Gamification to Support Program Adherence
- User-Friendly Interface
- Outcome Management Tools for Tracking and Reporting
The HUR Senso’s games and activities are designed to target seniors’ ability to quickly interact with their environment through effectively processing sensory stimuli. With a full functioning central nervous system, outside stimuli is quickly delivered to the brain. The brain processes the information and creates a movement plan to deal with it effectively.
The HUR Senso trains this process of quickly recording, processing, and transmitting information between the brain and the rest of the body, effectively lowering the risk of falls.
Studies show that technology-based training that links cognitive challenges to motor tasks in a virtual learning environment is one of the most effective ways to improve cognitive flexibility and achieve a strong, steady gait. This is what the HUR Senso does.
#3. Computerized Training Equipment
Technology-driven computerized training equipment can be an effective way to simplify and streamline training sessions and entire fitness programs for both seniors and fitness professionals. One of the primary reasons that seniors are reluctant to participate in a strength training program is that they feel intimidated by the equipment.
No one likes to feel incompetent and regular strength training equipment relies entirely on the user to know how to use it, how to adjust it, how many reps to perform, and the correct amount of weight to select.
Computerized training equipment takes the guess work out of strength training, automatically adjusting the machine to each user, loading the appropriate amount of resistance, counting reps and tracking progress. This allows older adults to safely train independently, which encourages consistent participation and reduces the need for staff assistance.
When selecting computerized training equipment, here are important features to look for:
- RFID Wristband Support
- Touchscreen Interface
- Pre-Set Equipment Adjustments
- Automatic Resistance Increase
- Online User Profiles
- Ability to Track Equipment-Free Exercises
- Application / Software Integration
- Cloud-Based, Multi-Site Management
The senior-friendly design of the HUR equipment, along with the ability for individual programming and monitoring, have been key success factors of our wellness program.” – Ballycara, Australia Residential Aged Care
#4. Automated Progressive Resistance
Resistance training is an extremely effective way to combat sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss), prevent falls, support cognitive functioning, control weight, support heart health, and prevent or reverse the symptoms of many age-related illnesses and diseases. In fact, some studies have shown that in just 3-4 months following the start of a strength training program, 3 decades of functional decline can be reversed.
However, in order for resistance training to be fully effective in supporting active, healthy aging, the amount of resistance used must increase over time. Improving leg strength, in particular, is crucial for avoiding falls and reducing risk of injury. The key word there is “improving”. Resistance must gradually increase as strength improves.
Progressive resistance training is a strength training method where resistance is gradually increased as strength improves. There are many different types of equipment options on the market that support this type of training, including standard weight-stack machines, pneumatic (air resistance) machines, hand-held weights, and elastic bands.
The best machines for seniors are engineered to automatically increase resistance when certain goals are exceeded in order to continue building strength and mobility without relying on the user to know when and how to add resistance.
When selecting Automated Progressive Resistance training equipment, here are important features to look for:
- Automatic Resistance Increase
- Inertia-Free (pneumatic or air resistance) • Close to Zero Starting Load
- Small, Incremental Resistance Increases
#5. Pneumatic (Air-Resistance) Equipment
With traditional “weight stack” machines, unequal effort is required at different points in the exercise. More effort is required at the beginning of the exercise to get the weights moving and at the end of the movement as the user works to slow down inertia. Then, in the middle of a movement, gravity and momentum cause an actual loss of resistance.
In contrast, pneumatic resistance training requires a consistent level of effort throughout an exercise. This prevents the user from swinging backwards or forwards while completing the exercise. The controlled motion protects against joint strain and over exertion that can lead to injury because the stability of the resistance is maintained by the machines.
Even better, no matter how quickly you move through an exercise on pneumatic resistance equipment, the level of resistance stays the same. The level of resistance is adjusted in accordance with the muscles’ natural generation of force, allowing the user to train harder with less risk of injury
When selecting Pneumatic Training Equipment, here are important features to look for:
- Close to Zero Starting Load
- Stepless Resistance Adjustments
- Range Limiters
- Concentric and Eccentric Muscle Support