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Falls Prevention Awareness and the A Matter of Balance Workshop

Balance class at South County Senior CenterA balance class at South County Senior Center.  Experts say finding a good exercise class can help prevent falls.

September is Falls Prevention Awareness Month

September is Falls Prevention Awareness Month, which gives us an opportunity to highlight the evidence-based A Matter of Balance workshop, which helps people at risk for falls. This workshop is part of the Healthy Living program at LifePath.    

It is reasonable to be concerned about falls, and of course, safety is important!

  • 1 in 4 Americans aged 65+ falls each year 
  • About 20% of falls cause physical injury 

The good news is that most falls are preventable!  Falls are NOT a natural part of aging, and research has shown that intervention can reduce both concerns about falling and the number of falls.

LifePath’s A Matter of Balance workshop, from MaineHealth’s Partnership for Healthy Aging, which runs for eight two-hour sessions, teaches us to view falls and fear of falling as controllable.  A Matter of Balance also teaches us how to set realistic goals for increasing strength, flexibility and balance, and how to change our environment, attitudes, and habits to reduce fall risk factors.

The program tackles risky attitudes (“If I report a fall to a medical provider or family member it will threaten my independence!”), medical risks for falls, environmental risks for falls, risky habits (rushing to the door/phone, not paying attention to what we are doing), and the need for assertiveness.  

“What many people think are the symptoms of aging are the symptoms of inactivity.”

We invite visiting nurses, physical therapists, yoga and Tai Chi instructors, and exercise professionals to address the various risk factors and encourage participants to utilize their services after the class ends.  All these make a difference for participants. We have heard what a difference it makes to learn from our visiting foot care nurses about taking care of our feet, finding more supportive ways to tie shoelaces, and understanding how to make sure our shoes are the right size. 

Fear of falling is its own risk factor for falls. 

One of the most important goals of the workshop is for people to counteract their negative internal messages about their own abilities and their fears of falling with messages of encouragement.

One-third to one-half of older adults acknowledge their fear of falling and that fear is associated with decreased satisfaction with life, increased frailty, depression, decreased mobility and decreased social activity.

We hear stories that illustrate that fear:  

  • “I haven’t gone downtown for 10 years.”  
  • “I didn’t go to the concert with my daughter-in-law when she asked me to and I regret it.”  
  • “I haven’t done my physical therapy exercise that I know would help me.”

A Matter of Balance helps students look at the messages we tell ourselves that discourage us from taking safe risks to stay active and involved, such as  “I can’t protect myself from falling. I better not try to do much of anything.”  For some this may lead to our not visiting friends, taking walks, cooking, cleaning or taking showers.  For some, this inactivity can lead to our muscles and bones becoming weak so that we are more likely to fall if we try activities.

“What many people think are the symptoms of aging are the symptoms of inactivity,” the curriculum says.

One of the main challenges we tackle is to help people distinguish between legitimate fears and concerns about falling and misconceptions about falling. 

Here are some of the questions we ask:

  1. What am I afraid of doing because I might fall?
  2. How realistic is my fear?  Based on my experience, how dangerous is this situation, 1-10?
  3. Is there any action I can take to make this safer and enable myself to try it?  If so, what is it?
  4. What positive results might happen if I try to do this?
  5. What will happen if I give in to my fear and don’t try?

Join a good exercise program to help prevent falls.

A main message of the A Matter of Balance curriculum is the importance of creating a comprehensive exercise program for preventing falls which includes endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility exercises.  Research shows that the majority of people can grow stronger through increased activity.  Almost anyone, at any age, can do some type of physical activity, despite significant barriers:  lack of time, lack of energy, pain. We help each other find solutions like walking with a friend, scheduling an exercise class, or starting slow.  We practice exercises that do all the above and are reminded by one visiting physical therapist about the importance of challenging our balance, walking on uneven surfaces, standing on our toes and heels, walking heel/toe, and even dancing!  

One of our visiting yoga teachers reminds us, “Just like eating nourishing foods and staying hydrated, we need to practice balance exercises daily. Varying balance routines and adding mild challenges helps keep them interesting and maintains proficiency.” 

Find hope and confidence to get stronger.

A recent A Matter of Balance participant called to let us know how much the class had an impact on her:   

“It affected me.  It motivated me to be more consciously aware of walking and I started walking again.  I started Tai Chi. The people we had come into the class really impressed me, the foot care nurses and the physical therapists.  I became more consciously aware of my surroundings and the need to constantly move. The message, ‘if you sit you are only shortening your life,’ really struck me.  I wasn’t aware of the impact of being inactive before the class. I feel more confident in my ability to prevent a fall.”

So, if you are someone who is…

  • Concerned about falls
  • Has sustained a fall in the past
  • Restricts activities because of concerns about falling
  • Is interested in improving flexibility, balance and strength

. . . then sign up for LifePath’s A Matter of Balance workshop by calling our Healthy Living Department at 413-773-5555, ext. 2297.