Move over Joe Wicks: in search of the digital realm’s best strength and balance content

Grappling with ideas to lower fall risk for your service users? Our round-up of digital resources may help, says Rethink research intern Megan Knightsbridge

As part of my Masters, I’m used to picking random topics and following the research down rabbit holes, but digital resources to help mitigate fall risks is a world I’d never thought about. 

I hadn’t ever considered the role strength and balance could play in liberating people from their chairs and keeping them out of A&E. It’s all fascinating to me.

The starting point for my project with Rethink Partners was a great quote from the Centre for Ageing Better: ‘Despite common misconceptions, falls are not an inevitable part of ageing and can be prevented.’ With this in mind my task was to look for answers to a simple question: how could digital solutions help people be more active day-to-day? I’ve been supporting Rethink Partners to compile something of a playbook pulling together behaviour change models and digital resources to be used to support better outcomes for people most at risk of falling and the associated complications that follow.

The research around digital approaches to falls prevention is a real mixed bag: studies published in academic journals, reports released by organisations like Sport England, observations from volunteer-led bodies…There is a huge amount out there on inactivity but the actual content around improving strength and balance, particularly using digital tools, can be hard to find. Some comes from unexpected sources, like the Just One Thing podcast from BBC journalist Dr Michael Mosley which shares the benefits of standing on one leg while brushing your teeth to build balance and core strength. It’s a short programme – just 15 minutes – but explores the links between balance, falls risk and reduced longevity in a light, non-judgemental and empowering way. Others might be less effective in winning over users; the behaviour models explored in our playbook help users assess which will be best for the cohort of people they’re working with.

 

One key finding from collating the research is that the Covid-19 pandemic has significantly increased the digital divide between 50 to 70-year-olds and the rest of the population. Face-to-face mentors (quite frequently grandchildren who’ll help without judgement) play an important part in enabling older people to access online resources. 

Crucially, the research I reviewed pointed to the importance of confidence to bring about digital inclusion. Having access to the internet isn’t enough. Getting the digital delivery of support right – promoting digital inclusion, including to those who are nervous about being online – brings obvious physical benefits for people, but also boosts efficiency for providers who may not have the time, resources or skills to deliver an effective strength and balance programme face-to-face.

There’s an encouraging amount of research that reflects changes in digital adoption in the Covid age. Everyone has been forced to shift their activities and many services online, and in the research I reviewed, this seems to have prompted some people to become more fearful of falling behind. What I’ve seen in my time compiling the strength and balance playbook is how many organisations are working on this problem, and the wider issue of mitigating falls. Pooling thinking and sharing good practice seems the best way forward. I hope the resource I’ve helped create will bring inspiration to you and your team.

About Megan Knightsbridge
Megan Knightsbridge recently graduated from University of Sheffield with an MS in International Social Change and Policy. A three-month research internship at Rethink Partners has been instrumental in securing a post at the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.

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