Local authorities are not prioritising programmes which can help people at risk of falling strengthen their muscles and improve their balance, new research has revealed.
The University of Manchester’s Healthy Ageing Research Group has found that NHS falls rehabilitation services do not have the funding to provide strength and balance training for more than a few hours over just six to eight weeks.
It is recommended that over 50 hours of resistance training, aerobics classes, yoga groups or similar exercise over six months is needed to make a difference to a person’s ability to do everyday activities.
Muscle weakness and poor balance can lead to injuries such as hip fractures and make people more likely to end up in hospital or need social care. Hip fractures alone cost the NHS around £1bn per year.
Strength and balance activity can help to reduce the risk of these injuries, and can also improve energy levels, mood and sleeping patterns and reduce the risk of early death.
The Healthy Ageing Research Group’s report, which was prepared with the Centre for Ageing Better, recommends that the NHS and local authorities prioritise making strength and balance training accessible to everyone.
It also warned that the referral pathways from the NHS to community-led programmes is ‘unclear’, with Clinical Commissioning Groups, local authorities and charities failing to join up with one another.
‘Improving and retaining strength and balance is vital for our wider health. Despite common misconceptions, falls are not an inevitable part of ageing and can be prevented,’ said Louise Ansari, director of communications and influencing at the Centre for Ageing Better.
‘Evidence tells us that strength and balance programmes reduce the risk of falls, but lack of communication and effective referral pathways can mean poor or non-existent provision.
‘If we can enable and encourage more people to take up activities to boost their strength and balance, there is significant potential to make savings to health and social care services and help people stay healthy and keep on doing everyday activities for longer.’
Professor Chris Todd, professor of primary care and community health, School of Health Sciences, University of Manchester said: ‘Making people aware of the benefit of strength and balance exercises should be a priority.
‘Prevention is absolutely central to the NHS Long Term Plan, which emphasises a move away from simply treating disease to a system that helps to keep people healthy for longer.
‘Our project shows that if the Long Term Plan’s ambition is to be realised, there needs to be a step change in the way strength and balance training is organised so that it is implemented effectively across the NHS in partnership with local government and the third sector.’