Purpose: This paper considers reasons for the successful maintenance of community based, falls-prevention programs. While the physical achievement of such programs has been demonstrated through randomized trials, other features influential in ongoing membership have received less attention. This study examined the sustainability of a specific model of a community-based program in a New Zealand city: SAYGO, the strength and balance classes for older adults lead by older volunteer leaders recruited from local communities. Method: A qualitative, descriptive approach was used and first-hand knowledge of the experiences of those involved in the groups gathered. Data collection methods included individual interviews of two group organizers and seven focus groups: six with the members of the exercise groups (57 participants) and one with the peer leaders from these same groups (6 participants). Results: Three major themes emerged from the interviews. Two were related to the outcomes of the groups (ie. physical and social benefits). The third was concerned with the support needs of the groups to ensure their on-going maintenance. The aspect that most invigorated the participants was the social value of the group. Conclusions: A major feature that contributed to the sustainability of the peer led exercise groups was the positive social connectedness created by the modeling of a caring culture by the peer-leaders. This caring culture involves support and inclusion of every member and acting as a resource and confidant for individual issues. Because group leaders are similar in age and physical problems, it is expected that they will empathize with participants, and because of their community and agency links, it is expected that they will be able to act as a resource for information on issues related to the participants, therefore, stand between the formal and informal domains and are perceived to have knowledge and connections in both. This, we suggest, is a major, previously unconsidered feature in the sustainability of these groups.

Author Bio(s)

  • Linda Robertson, PhD, Associate Professor, Dept of Occupational Therapy, Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin
  • Beatrice Hale, PhD, Independent Researcher, Dunedin
  • Debra Waters, DL, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Epidemiology, University of Otago, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, Dunedin
  • Leigh Hale, PhD, Associate Dean, Research, University of Otago, School of Physiotherapy, Dunedin
  • Alexa Andrew, MOccTher, Senior Lecturer, Otago Polytechnic, School of Occupational Therapy, Dunedin




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