Step training improves reaction time, gait and balance and reduces falls in older people: a systematic review and meta-analysis

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Abstract

Objective

To examine the effects of stepping interventions on fall risk factors and fall incidence in older people.

Data source

Electronic databases (PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, Cochrane, CENTRAL) and reference lists of included articles from inception to March 2015.

Study selection

Randomised (RCT) or clinical controlled trials (CCT) of volitional and reactive stepping interventions that included older (minimum age 60) people providing data on falls or fall risk factors.

Results

Meta-analyses of seven RCTs (n=660) showed that the stepping interventions significantly reduced the rate of falls (rate ratio=0.48, 95% CI 0.36 to 0.65, p<0.0001, I2=0%) and the proportion of fallers (risk ratio=0.51, 95% CI 0.38 to 0.68, p<0.0001, I2=0%). Subgroup analyses stratified by reactive and volitional stepping interventions revealed a similar efficacy for rate of falls and proportion of fallers. A meta-analysis of two RCTs (n=62) showed that stepping interventions significantly reduced laboratory-induced falls, and meta-analysis findings of up to five RCTs and CCTs (n=36–416) revealed that stepping interventions significantly improved simple and choice stepping reaction time, single leg stance, timed up and go performance (p<0.05), but not measures of strength.

Conclusions

The findings indicate that both reactive and volitional stepping interventions reduce falls among older adults by approximately 50%. This clinically significant reduction may be due to improvements in reaction time, gait, balance and balance recovery but not in strength. Further high-quality studies aimed at maximising the effectiveness and feasibility of stepping interventions are required.

Systematic reviews registration number

CRD42015017357.

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