Preventing falls in Argyll and Bute: Cowal Befrienders’ exercise classes

Strength and Balance

In this article we look at a service which is aiming to prevent falls by supporting older people who have difficulty attending classes to take part in exercise.


Exercise has an important role to play in reducing the risk of falls among older people in the community. A recent BMJ review has indicated that exercise-based and tailored interventions are the most effective way to reduce falls and associated healthcare costs among older people in the community, while a recently updated Care Inspectorate good practice resource, Managing Falls and Fractures in Care Homes for Older People has stressed the importance of keeping mobile, doing regular exercise and being physically active.

The Cowal Befrienders’ falls prevention exercise classes are working towards the overall aim that “Older people have a reduced risk of falls that may affect their ability to live independently in the community”.

The classes

Cowal Befrienders host two strength and balance exercise classes per week for older people who require some help to get to the Befrienders’ drop-in centre where the classes are held and support to participate in exercise classes.

Classes are co-ordinated and delivered by Otago-qualified staff employed by Cowal Befrienders (the Otago  exercise programme is designed to prevent falls). Referrals and assessments are managed by the NHS Highland physiotherapy team.

Clients are entitled to six free classes, and can continue to attend for a modest fee of £2.50 per session. There is a small charge for clients requesting transport to their classes to help offset the additional costs incurred to provide this service (£3 return for individuals living within Dunoon, and £5 return for those living outside of the town).

In addition to health and wellbeing benefits, such as increased strength, balance and mobility, and helping participants to feel more confident and independent, the classes also have a social aim: to help older people to expand their social networks and foster peer support, and to increase access to health-promoting information that meets their needs.

The social aspect of the classes has been particularly valued by participants, with 97% citing this as one of the things that they enjoyed most about the classes. Clients also particularly appreciated the encouragement that they were given by staff and volunteers, and the pace of the classes.


Between April 2015 and January 2016:

  • 27 clients were referred to and attended classes.
  • 15 clients continued to attend after the initial course of six classes.
  • 19 clients received transport (70%).
  • All clients accessed the Befrienders’ Information Service.
  • Four clients were referred to mainstream services with Cowal Befrienders.
  • 33 separate home visits carried out, to encourage attendance and carry out evaluations.

Participants have seen an increase in their level of mobility, joint strength, general confidence, levels of independence, number of social relationships and awareness of the risks of falling. They feel safer, and they have less of a fear of falling and more information on falls prevention.

It is great to see the efforts of this project in supporting older people to take part in exercise, who might otherwise struggle to access these kinds of services, and the health and wellbeing, and social benefits of this work. The project also highlights the benefits of closer links between health and social care and the third sector: initiatives like this can play an important part in supporting people to live well at home and contribute to achieving the Scottish Government’s 2020 Vision.

For more information on the project, contact


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