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A Small-Group Functional Balance Intervention for Individuals with Alzheimer Disease: A Pilot Study

Ries, Julie D. PT, PhD; Drake, Jamie Michelle PT, DPT; Marino, Christopher PT, DPT

Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy: March 2010 - Volume 34 - Issue 1 - p 3-10
doi: 10.1097/NPT.0b013e3181d00f2e

Background and Purpose: Individuals with Alzheimer disease (AD) have a higher risk of falls than their cognitively intact peers. This pilot study was designed to assess the feasibility and effectiveness of a small-group balance exercise program for individuals with AD in a day center environment.

Methods: Seven participants met the inclusion criteria: diagnosis of AD or probable AD, medical stability, and ability to walk (with or without assistive device). We used an exploratory pre- and post-test study design. Participants engaged in a functional balance exercise program in two 45-minute sessions each week for eight weeks. Balance activities were functional and concrete, and the intervention was organized into constant, blocked, massed practice. Outcome measures included Berg Balance Scale (BBS), Timed Up and Go (TUG), and gait speed (GS; self-selected and fast assessed by an instrumented walkway). Data were analyzed by comparing individual change scores with previously identified minimal detectable change scores at the 90% confidence level (MDC90).

Results: Pre- and post-test data were acquired for five participants (two participants withdrew). The BBS improved in all five participants, and improved ≥6.4 points (the MDC90 for the BBS in three participants. Four participants improved their performance on the TUG, and three participants improved ≥4.09 seconds (the MDC90 for the TUG). Self-selected GS increased ≥9.44 cm/sec (the MDC90 for gait speed) in three participants. Two participants demonstrated post-test self-selected GS comparable with their pretest fast GS.

Discussion and Conclusions: This pilot study suggests that a small-group functional balance intervention for individuals with AD is feasible and effective. Although participants had no explicit memory of the program, four of five improved in at least two outcome measures. Larger scale functional balance intervention studies with individuals with AD are warranted.

Department of Physical Therapy, Marymount University, Arlington, Virginia.

Address correspondence to: Julie D. Ries, E-mail:

© 2010 Neurology Section, APTA