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Effects of a physiotherapy and occupational therapy intervention on mobility and activity in care home residents: a cluster randomised controlled trial

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 01 September 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3123
  1. Catherine M Sackley, professor of physiotherapy research,
  2. Maayken E van den Berg, research physiotherapist,
  3. Karen Lett, research occupational therapist,
  4. Smitaa Patel, statistician,
  5. Kristen Hollands, project coordinator,
  6. Christine C Wright, senior lecturer,
  7. Thomas J Hoppitt, research fellow
  1. 1School of Health and Population Sciences, Primary Care Clinical Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT
  1. Correspondence to: T J Hoppitt t.j.hoppitt{at}
  • Accepted 1 March 2009


Objective To compare the clinical effectiveness of a programme of physiotherapy and occupational therapy with standard care in care home residents who have mobility limitations and are dependent in performing activities of daily living.

Design Cluster randomised controlled trial, with random allocation at the level of care home.

Setting Care homes within the NHS South Birmingham primary care trust and the NHS Birmingham East and North primary care trust that had more than five beds and provided for people in the care categories “physical disability” and “older people.”

Participants Care home residents with mobility limitations, limitations in activities of daily living (as screened by the Barthel index), and not receiving end of life care were eligible to take part in the study.

Intervention A targeted three month occupational therapy and physiotherapy programme.

Main outcome measures Scores on the Barthel index and the Rivermead mobility index.

Results 24 of 77 nursing and residential homes that catered for residents with mobility limitations and dependency for activities of daily living were selected for study: 12 were randomly allocated to the intervention arm (128 residents, mean age 86 years) and 12 to the control arm (121 residents, mean age 84 years). Participants were evaluated by independent assessors blind to study arm allocation before randomisation (0 months), three months after randomisation (at the end of the treatment period for patients who received the intervention), and again at six months after randomisation. After adjusting for home effect and baseline characteristics, no significant differences were found in mean Barthel index scores at six months post-randomisation between treatment arms (mean effect 0.08, 95% confidence interval −1.14 to 1.30; P=0.90), across assessments (−0.01, −0.63 to 0.60; P=0.96), or in the interaction between assessment and intervention (0.42, −0.48 to 1.32; P=0.36). Similarly, no significant differences were found in the mean Rivermead mobility index scores between treatment arms (0.62, −0.51 to 1.76; P=0.28), across assessments (−0.15, −0.65 to 0.35; P=0.55), or interaction (0.71, −0.02 to 1.44; P=0.06).

Conclusions The three month occupational therapy and physiotherapy programme had no significant effect on mobility and independence. On the other hand, the variation in residents’ functional ability, the prevalence of cognitive impairment, and the prevalence of depression were considerably higher in this sample than expected on the basis of previous work. Further research to clarify the efficacy of occupational therapy and physiotherapy is required if access to therapy services is to be recommended in this population.

Trial registration ISRCTN79859980


  • We acknowledge the help of care home residents and staff, the trial steering group chaired by Professor Marion Walker and including Professor Jonathan Mant, and the occupational therapy and physiotherapy advisory groups. We also thank Professors David Mant and Derick Wade for contributing to the study design. Finally, we would like to thank the locum therapists: Nicola Brittle, Eric Morgan, and Pam Versveldt.

  • Contributors: CMS was principal investigator and led the design, management, and writing up of the trial. TJH and KH were responsible for the coordination of the trial, the independent assessments, and data management. TJH also contributed to the design of the study and was responsible for writing up the trial for publication. CCW and SP were responsible for the development of the statistical analyses plans, conducting the analyses, and written presentation of the results. MEvdB and KL contributed to the design of the intervention protocol and administered the physiotherapy and occupational therapy components of the intervention, respectively.

  • Funding: This study was funded by the Health Foundation and the NHS National Institute for Health Research. The University of Birmingham acted as sponsors. The funders and sponsor had no involvement in the study design, data collection, analysis and interpretation, the writing of the report, or the decision to submit the paper for publication.

  • Competing interests: None declared.

  • Ethical approval: Ethical approval was granted by the Oxfordshire Applied and Qualitative Research Ethics Committee. Further site specific approval was granted by the NHS South Birmingham and NHS Birmingham East and North Local Research Ethics Committees.

  • Data sharing: All authors had access to all the data in the trial and can take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

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