Staying on the move: Study on fall prevention

“Effective fall prevention increases the quality of life and significantly reduces costs due to health consequences”, said study leader Dr Gunver Kienle, a physician at the Center for Naturopathy at the University Medical Center Freiburg. “If the people in question feel safe moving again, they should also be less afraid of falling and their everyday movements should be more autonomous. That would be a significant relief.”

The study, named ENTAiER, was provided with around two million euros in funds from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research for four years to examine the effects of eurythmy therapy and tai chi on the risk of falling, balance and mobility, as well as how they affect the health-related quality of life, mood and mental alertness of the participants. In eight centres, including in Freiburg, Berlin and Herdecke, 550 chronically ill patients aged 65 years and more with an increased risk of falling were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups. They regularly practise either tai chi or healing eurythmy for six months, or receive the usual standard care from their GP. All the participants also received a brochure with fall prevention tips. The exercises are performed in small groups under the guidance of appropriately trained experts and regularly practised at home.

Group exercises via video chat
Again, Covid-19 disturbed the usual course of events: Since the study participants are among the most vulnerable risk groups due to their age and pre-existing conditions, the meetings at the study centres had to be suspended for several months. “We had no choice but to quickly reorganise the ongoing courses”, says Kienle. “Some could be done online as video conferences, whereas phone support was provided in other cases. Luckily, everyone had met beforehand and knew how to continue to practise at home.” As the therapists reported, few participants suffered from the imposed isolation during the lockdown or were worried about the consequences of the pandemic. These emotional strains were, to some extent, absorbed by the group thanks to discussions via video or phone. “Some participants who could not switch to online courses agreed to all practise at home at an agreed-upon fixed time.” According to Kienle, that also created a sense of connectedness.

With financial support from SAGST, a sub-study with a total of 60 patients is also being conducted at the Essen research centre to pursue two additional aspects. The team led by Dr Holger Cramer, Research Director at the Department of Internal and Integrative Medicine, is investigating the effects of the various therapies on cell ageing and is also conducting qualitative surveys to find out whether and how the participants’ quality of life improves. “Telomere length is also conventionally medically recognised as a hard scientific measurement parameter for the state of cell ageing”, explained SAGST project manager Sandra Würtenberger. Telomeres are certain DNA sequences that shorten as we age; when they reach a critical length, the aged cells stop dividing. “If it can be proved that mind-body techniques such as healing eurythmy have a positive effect on this process”, said Würtenberger, “such techniques would receive more scientific attention.”