Do telephone calls make a difference in home balance training outcomes?

The purpose of this study was to determine the benefit of a weekly telephone contact on balance control for community-dwelling frail older adults participating in home-exercise programs.

Falls in frail older adults often lead to hospitalization and sometimes death. Evidence supports the effectiveness of home exercise programs in reducing fall risk in older adults. As well, there is a high cost for the delivery of a home exercise program in a traditional manner. Poor adherence to a home exercise program can limit the expected reduction in fall risk in the older adult population. The study’s authors hypothesized that a weekly telephone call would improve adherence to a home-exercise program and, therefore, improve outcomes on the Berg Balance Test.

Seventy-five community-dwelling, frail older adult participants, at risk for falling (mean age: 76 years, range: 64-88 years; 3 women), were randomized in alternating pairs to a Telephone Call or No Telephone Call group. All participants received physical therapy home-exercise programs focused on balance control and were assessed and progressed 4 times over 12 weeks. All participants used an exercise log in which they were asked to record the amount of time and the number of repetitions performed of all daily exercises. The Telephone Call group received an additional 15-minute weekly telephone call with standard questions and encouragement to discuss their program. The primary outcome measure was the Berg Balance Scale.

A total of 11 subjects dropped out of the study with 8 from the No Telephone Call group and 3 from the Telephone Call group. For both groups, a significant effect for time was noted, demonstrating that both groups improved significantly in balance control with the home exercise intervention. For the Berg Balance Scale, an interaction occurred whereby the Telephone Call group improved significantly more in balance control than the No Telephone Call group (Telephone Call group = 6.3 points; No Telephone Call group = 3.9 points).

A home exercise program was beneficial to improve the balance of community-dwelling frail older adults. More importantly for health policy consideration, a simple, weekly, telephone call made a significant difference in how much balance improvement was made.

Telephone calls are a cost-effective way to provide effective follow-up support for older adults participating in home exercise programs.