UOW researcher heads falls prevention projects

Oct 13, 2006

A Senior Lecturer in the Exercise Science Program at the University of Wollongong, who was the inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Excellence in Community Engagement winner for 2006, will lead two teams which have been successful in receiving grants totalling $488,000 aimed at preventing falls among the elderly.

The Federal Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) has announced funding for two research teams to be headed by Mr Owen Curtis.

Mr Curtis said the successful grants were important not only to the University of Wollongong but to the Illawarra and Shoalhaven communities as well as exercise physiologists Australia wide.

“One in three people over 65 years of years are reported to fall annually, with 10% of these experiencing multiple falls,” he said.

“Furthermore, the data are more frightening for individuals living in residential care, many of whom die within 12 months of a fall. Falls are costly to the individual, to their health, function and to quality of life. A 2001 study revealed that falls cost the Australian community an estimated $498.2 million,” Mr Curtis said.

The falls prevention projects are the first in Australia determining the impact of exercise physiologists on falls prevention and the first to be funded by the DoHA involving accredited exercise physiologists in exercise design and delivery.

“The establishment of successful partnerships with key health and service providers was made possible by final year Exercise Science and Rehabilitation students’ preparedness to support programs of exercise in the community over many years,” Mr Curtis said.

He said these falls prevention grants will establish the profession as allied health practitioners with the knowledge, skills and competencies to work collaboratively with GPs and patients to deliver health outcomes at a time when self management of health is essential.

One project valued at $301,000 partners the UOW Exercise Science program with the NSW Department of Health, the NSW Aboriginal Vascular Health Program, the Illawarra and Shoalhaven Divisions of General Practice, the Illawarra Retirement Trust and Unanderra Care, and five accredited exercise physiologists – all graduates from UOW. This 18-month project will assess the effectiveness of accredited exercise physiologists in changing risk of fall profiles in patients with complex and chronic conditions identified as ‘at risk of falls’ by GPs. The intervention, including up to five occasions of treatments with the accredited exercise physiologists, will be funded through Medicare.

The second project of $187,000 targets individuals in the community living with chronic kidney disease, and links accredited exercise physiologists, the two Divisions of General Practice and the Renal Units at Wollongong and Shoalhaven Hospitals. Doctors again will identify individuals at increased risk of falls and refer them to the accredited exercise physiologists for design and delivery of exercise and support for lifestyle change. The change in falls risk profile will once again be assessed.

“This project follows on the extremely successful Renalrobics program provided in recent years for individuals on dialysis,” Mr Curtis said.

Mr Curtis said these innovative grants confirm the Federal Government’s recognition of accredited exercise physiologists, and following the professional accreditation of the University of Wollongong programs by the Australian Association for Exercise and Sport Science (AAESS), will stimulate interest in graduates keen on providing exercise interventions in the health care industry.

“AAESS accredited the Exercise Science programs early in October 2006. Obviously, the Exercise Science programs at UOW will be even more attractive to undergraduate students and also postgraduates students keen to improve their skill set with respect to exercise design, delivery and self management for people living with complex and chronic conditions,” Mr Curtis said.

For further information contact Mr Owen Curtis on (02) 4221 3493 or mobile 0439 936176.

For more information, contact:

University of Wollongong
Ph: (02) 4221 5942; fax (02) 4221 3128


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