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  1. Gallagher, Kristel M. PhD


Background and Purpose: The benefits of exercise gained by older adults during physical therapy are often not maintained once the program is over. This lack of sustained benefits is thought to be partially the result of poor adherence to the prescribed home exercise program to be continued once therapy is completed. Most of what is known about older adults' adherence to physical therapy and home exercise comes from research seeking to identify and understand predictors of adherence, rather than trying to enhance adherence explicitly. The purpose of this study was to test a theoretically grounded approach to promoting adherence to home exercise programs in older adults.


Method: Sixty older adults (M age = 69.3 (6.87) years) in a program of physical therapy received 1 of 2 print messages and magnets promoting adherence to home exercise. The content of the messages was informed by the goal-specific tenets of socioemotional selectivity theory-one message described the emotional and meaningful benefits of home exercise, such as time with loved ones and independence, and one message described facts and information about physiological benefits, such as balance and strength. Adherence to home exercise was measured 2 weeks after participants were discharged from physical therapy by calculating the percentage of the prescribed exercises participants reported completing at home.


Results: An analysis of covariance indicated that there was no statistically significant difference in adherence rates between participants receiving either message. However, a 2x2 analysis of covariance did reveal a significant interaction between the type of message participants received and the time at which they received that message. Post hoc analyses separately examined the rates of adherence in participants who received the intervention message with time remaining in their therapy program and participants who received the intervention message on the day of discharge. In the subset of participants who received their intervention message with time remaining in their therapy program, those who received the emotion and meaning message were somewhat more adherent to their home exercise program than those who received the facts and information message (63.6% vs 50.8%; P = .07). Those who received the emotion and meaning message also performed on average more exercises outside of their home exercise program (2.4 vs 1.3; P = .06).


Discussion: Despite lacking a statistically significant difference between message groups, the results of this study suggest that highlighting the emotional and meaningful benefits of home exercise versus providing facts and information about the physiological benefits may encourage older adults to be adherent to their home exercise programs. This may especially be the case if they receive the information while still in therapy. As this was the first study to empirically test an intervention targeting adherence to post-physical therapy home exercise in older adults, future research is needed to better understand what motivates older adults to be adherent.