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Falls-prevention program saves lives, garners award

Published:11 December 2017

TOP: CQUni Vice-Chancellor Professor Scott Bowman congratulates the University’s Balance 4 Life program members (from left) Helen Bourne, Samantha Swain, Julie Nguyen, Dr Anthony Schneiders and Kasey Bonato on their 2017 Opal Award. MIDDLE & BELOW: Balance 4 Life program participants.

Thirty percent of people aged 65 years and over will experience at least one fall annually, according to Queensland Health figures from 2012.

Almost a third of these individuals will require medical attention, and 40 percent will continue to have multiple falls.

These alarming statistics prompted Physiotherapist and CQUni Clinical Educator Samantha Swain to implement a falls-prevention program at CQUni Rockhampton’s Physiotherapy Clinic.

Titled Balance 4 Life, the program’s effectiveness recently garnered Ms Swain and team members – Kasey Bonato, Julie Nguyen, Helen Bourne and Professor Anthony Schneiders – a CQUniversity Opal Award for Excellence in Engagement* (in the Engaged Service category), and a $2500 grant.

“Through the CQUni Physiotherapy Clinic, Balance 4 Life offers General Practitioners and other health professionals a referral pathway and provides patients with an affordable and accessible physiotherapy service,” Ms Swain explained.

“This eight-week program incorporates weekly one-hour group-based exercise classes and a 30-minute multidisciplinary falls-prevention talk.

“The aim of this program is for participants to learn self-management strategies for long-term fall prevention, and to increase their muscle strength, balance, mobility, independence and confidence, in addition to promoting social engagement and support networks within the community.”

Ms Swain said the program also provided a unique hands-on training opportunity for CQUni’s Physiotherapy students.

“Balance 4 Life exposes our third-and-fourth-year students to patients with complex health needs and multiple comorbidities,” she said.

“This not only provides a challenging and rewarding clinical placement but also provides hands-on practical industry experience.

“CQUni’s Podiatry, Nutrition and Occupational Therapy students also offered patient support in the pilot program.

“As Australia’s population ages, the number of people aged 65 and over will exponentially increase from 14 percent (3 million people) in 2010 to 23 percent (8.1 million people) in 2050; thus, this program will become even more critical over time.

“Down the track, we hope to harness more allied-health student-involvement opportunities to support the program.”

The pilot program began in July and, due to increased referrals and word of mouth, a second program is now currently underway.

CQ Doctors' spokesperson Dr Danielle Andreussi hailed the program as “invaluable” in facilitating both rehabilitation and education for patients who had had a fall or were at risk of falling.

“For my patients in the Rockhampton region, especially those who are from lower socio-economic backgrounds, this program allows them affordable access to preventative health care; too often this level of program is only accessible after a person has had a fall,” Dr Andreussi said.

Ms Swain said Balance 4 Life had the potential to boost physiotherapy research at CQUni from the outcomes, effectiveness and management of this falls-prevention program for the Central Queensland community.

“Falls-prevention strategies and programs are widely researched throughout Australia, and this program will allow us to collect clinical data within a rural setting and build our research profile,” she said.

Ms Swain said in addition to funding physiotherapy research into the program’s outcomes, the Opal Award grant money received would assist in the acquisition and provision of equipment to increase the number of program participants and classes.

* Held simultaneously across the nation on 16 November, the CQUniversity Opal Awards for Excellence in Engagement recognises and encourages outstanding engagement by CQUniversity staff and students with the community, as well as internally within the University.