AMES, IA — Thanks to a recently awarded $1 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers and community partners at Iowa State University will study new strategies to help reduce risk of falls in the elderly.
The project will build on an evidence-based program called Walk with Ease, which was developed by the Arthritis Foundation and widely endorsed by the CDC; participants are guided through the six-week program (in-person or online) to learn how to safely add physical activity to their day. Previous research found that seniors participating in the program experienced modest to moderate improvements in pain, fatigue, stiffness, strength, and balance.
The newly funded research project at the ISU will be the first to directly assess the program’s potential to reduce the risk and incidence of falls, which is the leading cause of injury among people aged 65 and older in the United States. United.
Over the next three years, researchers from the ISU Translational Research Network will evaluate the effects of incorporating individualized physical therapy exercises into the group version of Walk with Ease. They will also explore how different motivational approaches can help people follow prescribed exercises and engage in more physical activity.
Findings from the project, including a feasibility study for expanding the program, could help inform training materials and lead to a replicable model for communities in Iowa and other states.
“We are trying to determine the most effective approach before wider dissemination of the Walk with Ease group program,” said Greg Welk, Barbara E. Forker Professor of Kinesiology and coordinator of the entire project.
The research project will be conducted in collaboration with the McFarland Clinic and Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames. Physiotherapists will assess participants for fall risk and work with the Welk team to incorporate personalized exercises into warm-ups and cool-downs during group sessions.
“People trying to follow home exercise prescriptions may not remember how to do the recommended exercises or may not have the motivation to do them regularly. The project will build accountability, support and motivation to help respond to those needs,” Welk said.
Rely on pilot studies and partnerships
Since 2019, Welk’s team has been piloting enhanced versions of Walk with Ease — including an online format that’s delivered statewide using trained ISU student health coaches to provide support through phone and an in-person version that includes group walking.
Last winter, Mary Greeley began screening patients at high risk for falls and referring them to the ISU Walk with Ease program.
“Falls are the number one trauma here in the emergency room. That’s why we felt it was so important to partner with Greg Welk’s team to help the Ames community and work to reduce the number of falls we see,” said RN Tricia Colman, manager of the trauma program at Mary Greeley.
Colman pointed to data from last year showing the emergency department saw more than 620 trauma patients who were injured by falls, compared to about 170 by accidents involving vehicles or bicycles. She added that the majority of people presenting to the emergency room with fall-related injuries are 60 or older.
Referrals for Walk with Ease and the three-year project will continue to be processed through CHPcommunity HUB, a statewide nonprofit that works within communities to deliver evidence-based programs to to promote healthier people, environments and systems.
The research team will also continue its partnership with Ames Parks and Recreation Community Center and Mary Greeley’s Lifetime Fitness Center in Story City. The two promote the program and provide space for ISU student health coaches who lead the in-person group version of Walk with Ease.
“Many seniors who want to start an exercise program don’t know where or how to start. Starting a walking program with guidance from Walk with Ease staff along with group stretching before and after walking can give them the confidence to get started and feel confident as they get stronger,” said Nancy Shaw, public welfare officer for the town of Ames. Department of Parks and Recreation.
Shaw added that many attendees appreciate the social aspect of Walk with Ease, as well as the guidance from ISU faculty and student health coaches. Welk pointed out that students also receive valuable experiential learning opportunities to help older adults.
Participants can enroll in both in-person and virtual versions of the program on an ongoing basis. The three-year study focused on the in-person program is open to adults over the age of 65 who are deemed safe to participate in a walking program by their doctor.
More information about the program and the registration process is available at www.walkwitheaseisu.org.