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Seniors gym sees improvements in strength and balance

Seniors gym sees improvements in strength and balance
October 7, 2016

The success of Uniting Seniors Gym programs that focus on strength and balance in older Australians should see exercise physiologists recognised under the Federal Government’s Aged Care Funding Instrument (AGFI) allied health worker definition according to Nathan Hall, the Service Manager at Uniting Seniors Gym.

The two centres, which are located in Lilyfield and Waverley in Sydney provide a tailored strength-based training program and the right level of support, says Hall, an exercise physiologist.

Hall sees that Uniting’s gyms for seniors are an inviting environment, explaining “everyone is assessed by the exercise physiologist and then an exercise program is developed for them based on their needs and goals.

“From there we support them in that initial package. Over five or six sessions we slowly build their confidence. They can build their level of independence and it is great to see when someone does.”

The gyms have access to Commonwealth Home Support Program funding and members are a mix of Uniting clients and self-funded seniors. While the gym enthusiasts complete their training program, an exercise physiologist is on the floor to supervise, assist and answer questions.

Hall advised “working on a client’s strength and power has great improvements in balance and the ability to react to unplanned movements, for instance a trip, as well as the strength to regain balance and prevent a fall.”

Hall, who started out in the fitness industry, says he became involved in aged care after completing a degree in exercise science and getting his exercise physiologist qualification.

He recalls “a role came up that combined the gym program and the strength program but then also utilising the skills of my degree, such as chronic disease management, which fit in well.”

That was more than 13 years ago, when he started at Uniting tasked with developing the Seniors Gym from inception. Today, he spends more time managing operations and focusing on commissioning new sites in NSW and the ACT with Uniting set to open gyms in Chatswood, Orange and Canberra later this year.

The current locations have grown to accommodate more than 400 clients attending two to three times a week at each site, including about 80 to 90 people each day.

Hall advises “we have been collecting outcomes on functional ability and strength for the last 10 years. This evidence has shown that as soon as someone starts at the Seniors Gym, the normal impact of muscle strength is either improved or remains constant. We have seen improvements in results by an average of 15 to 30%.”

Seeing positive changes in clients is what Hall likes most about his job, adding “in terms of clients, you are able to see not only functional and strength gains but also growth in their confidence, mood and general wellbeing.”

Some residents of Uniting aged care facilities are transported to the gyms to complete strength and balance programs but Hall says the numbers have dropped over the years due to the shift in resident demographics. While residents may be older and frailer, he says it shouldn’t exclude them from strength training activities.

Uniting recently ran a 10-week strength and balance program at two facilities, which had positive outcomes and will continue at one site.

Hall advises “(participants) could walk a little bit quicker. They could sit and stand from a chair a few more times. Their balance improved and taking wellbeing scores, they were feeling better within themselves.”

A key issue in residential aged care is that the ACFI doesn’t easily allow for these types of strength-based programs, which need to be consistent.

As Hall explains “exercise classes are often run within residential aged care as a recreation program, however there needs to be a clear shift to an outcome-based program that focuses on strength and balance, which will also impact on a reduced need for passive pain management.”

Hall would like to see a focus on prevention strategies, rather than disability or reactive programs, in ACFI, as well as a broadening of the allied health worker definition, concluding “I support the need for exercise physiologist to be added as an allied health worker within the ACFI to assist with the development of targeted exercise programs that help prevent, manage and treat disease.”

For residential providers looking at running similar programs, Hall advises they should be outcome focused, delivered by appropriately qualified staff and not a purely leisure-based program.

Image: Nathan Hall with Judy Halford a member of Uniting Seniors Gym, Lilyfield.

The original article by Natasha Egan appears in the current edition (September-October) of Australian Ageing Agenda.

Click here for more information on the ACFI.

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However, as an independent publisher, can we ask for you to support us by subscribing to the printed Australasian Leisure Management magazine - if you don't already do so.

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