Staying Healthy in the Golden Years: A List of Cochrane Reviews

Presented by the Canadian Cochrane Centre and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research

For seniors, being active generates multiple health benefits. Improving balance, reducing falls and injuries, staying independent longer, preventing heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and premature death, are some of them. However, older people are often prescribed a range of drugs for their health problems many of which have side effects. Furthermore, several studies have been leaning towards finding non-pharmacological ways of managing and avoiding health issues in people 60 and over.

The Cochrane Library contains over 5,300 Cochrane Reviews which systematically find and synthesize evidence from available research on health and health care interventions. Many of these reviews address issues affecting the elderly and present different ways of maintaining good health as older adults. The following reviews report evidence found in multiple studies regarding preventing and treating health issues in seniors without the use of prescription drugs.

Exercise for improving balance in older people

Balance can be described as being able to stay upright and steady when standing up or while in movement. In older adults, diminished balance is associated with reduced physical functioning and an increased risk of falling linked to fractures, higher dependency, illness and sometimes early death. Although evidence is weak, a Cochrane Review concludes that some exercise types are moderately effective, immediately post intervention, in improving balance in older people. Also, the review noted that effective exercise programs in improving balance had to run at least three times a week for three months at a minimum, and had to involve dynamic exercise.

Physical activity to improve brain function for seniors without dementia

Physical activity is beneficial for healthy aging. It may also help maintain good cognitive function in older age. A Cochrane Review shows that aerobic physical activities which improve cardiorespiratory fitness are beneficial for cognitive function in healthy older adults, with effects observed for motor function, cognitive speed, auditory and visual attention.

Strength training for improving physical function in older adults

Muscle weakness in old age is associated with physical function decline. This reduction in muscle strength means that older people are more likely to have problems carrying out their daily activities and to fall. Progressive resistance strength training (PRT) exercises are designed to increase strength by gradually increasing resistance. A Cochrane Review provides evidence that PRT is an effective intervention for improving physical functioning in older people, including improving strength and the performance of some simple and complex activities. PRT may also reduce pain in people with osteoarthritis.

Home versus center based physical activity programs in older adults

Physical inactivity is a leading cause of preventable death in developed countries. In fact, physical activity programs at home and in a supervised center can potentially be an effective tool to prevent and treat various medical conditions. A Cochrane Review reports that both exercising at home and at a center improves the health and physical function of older adults. However, in the long term, people tend to stick to exercising when they integrate within their home, more than in a center based activity program.

Bright light therapy for sleep problems in adults aged 60+

It's difficult for seniors to stay physically active when there is a lack of energy due to sleep problems. Yet, the prevalence of sleep problems increases with age and many seniors have a hard time having a good night sleep. Severe sleep disturbances may lead to reduced physical activity, depression, cognitive impairments, deterioration of quality of life and stress. A Cochrane Review looked at the effectiveness of improving sleep with the help of bright light therapy. The goal of the light therapy is to restore the disturbed cycle of circadian rhythms by the administration of very high doses of fluorescent light for periods of around two hours a day. Further research into the efficacy of the intervention with older adults is necessary – but bright light therapy had showed promising results in other populations with sleep problems.