Dawn Skelton, Professor of Ageing and Health at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), is the 2017 recipient of the British Geriatrics Society Marjory Warren Lifetime Achievement Award, now in its 70thAnniversary Year.
As an exercise physiologist, Professor Skelton has changed practice and shown that exercise to prevent falls for frailer older people should be a treatment and given the same emphasis in terms of dose, duration, intensity and training as patients recovering from falls or at risk of a fall and fracture. She has worked with the NHS to adopt evidence-based practices into care to reduce falls.
Professor Skelton said: “Falls are not an inevitable consequence of ageing but are often a sign of failing health and a transition to frailty and dependence. If people at risk of falls are able to access the right interventions to improve their confidence, their physical abilities, and their independence, they can often stay in their own homes for longer. Fear of falling often limits activities such that they become lonely and isolated, so these interventions are vital to maintain quality of life.”
Professor Skelton developed the exercise programme called FaME (Falls Management Exercise) in the early 2000s and, with the help of colleagues, she set up a not-for-profit company, Later Life Training, to deliver training to health and fitness professionals. Now more than half of all falls services in the UK use Skelton’s training programme. Another effective intervention, developed in New Zealand, was brought to the UK by Professor Skelton and 40% of services in the UK have also adopted this exercise intervention to prevent falls in older people. The success of the programme led to a large European project where health professionals from 11 different EU countries were trained, changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
Professor Skelton added: “I am very honoured to receive this award. I have many Geriatrician colleagues to thank who have helped in my mission. It’s been my passion to change practice and ensure that all who work with frailer older people realise the benefits of strength and balance exercise, not just in falls prevention, but in retaining life in people’s years.
“Falls affect everyone, and it’s everyone’s business. It costs the NHS billions a year, however, it’s the cost to the individual and their family and carers that really matter. A strength and balance programme can literally work miracles on confidence, steadiness and stability, changing a person’s life. I encourage everyone to test their own balance by standing on one leg for 30 seconds, if you cannot do this without putting your foot down or holding on, you need balance training.”
Professor Skelton continues to find ways to engage people in home exercise as well as finding variations of these programmes for people with visual impairment and those recently discharged from hospital. The majority of her work focuses on the support strategies and motivation techniques to engage older people in exercise programmes and reaching out to health professionals within the NHS to implement her evidence-based strategies.