Before you fall and can’t get up

Class addresses fears of falling

“I want to continue to golf, but I’m afraid I will fall. If I walk slow, I don’t want to hold my friends back.”

“I worry that I will fall getting in and out of the bathtub or shower.”

“It’s winter and soon it will be icy and snowy. I could easily fall.”

“I fell working in my garden and no one was home. I don’t want to do that again.”

These are some of the concerns seniors voiced in the Area Agency on Aging 11 course Matter of Balance. The multi-week class offers tips to prevent falls and an assortment of exercises along with group discussions and problem-solving techniques.

It is considered a group intervention to relate to participants’ physical, social and cognitive reasons for fear of falls and also address preventive measures.

“As we get older, we start to have balance issues, whether it be from health issues or from medications,” Sheila Cornell, wellness coordinator at the Jewish Community Center in Liberty, said. It’s one of the places where the course is offered.

“The Matter of Balance class will teach ways to prevent falling and increase activity levels,” Cornell said.

Participants seem to agree.

Peggy Evans of Liberty said, “I want to educate myself to hopefully prevent falls and be safe.”

Norma Thomas of Youngstown said, “I live by myself. I had a stroke and my balance is an issue. I want to do more exercises to help me avoid falling.”

The men and women taking the course sit comfortably around tables connected in a rectangular shape. This setup encourages an easy flow of instruction and questions.

Preventive measures do not require special equipment or exorbitant amounts of money.

One of the first things addressed is “Change How You Think.” Attendees were told to ask themselves, “How likely is it that you will fall?”

Amy Plant, wellness specialist at the Area Agency on Aging 11, based in Niles, suggested putting an action plan in place before you go somewhere.

“One woman told me that her granddaughter was playing in The Ohio State University band. She wanted her grandmother to come to a football game to see her play. The woman worried about having trouble walking up all of the steep steps. She didn’t go and she felt guilty.

“So the next football season, she had an action plan. She asked for seats closer to the floor. She went early, so there wouldn’t be a lot of people at the stadium yet and she could take her time walking to her seat. She went to the game and she had a great time,” Plant said.

Another simple tip for lessening your chances of falling is to check your footwear. Make sure it is weather-appropriate and that it has soles that are nonslip. It was also recommended that if you have issues with arthritis or bending to tie your shoes, then you should wear slip-on shoes that fit well or ones that have Velcro closures.

According to the Public Health Nurse at Mahoning County District Board of Health and MOB co-teacher Nancy Butch, technology is not just for young people. It can also help seniors if they do fall.

“You can use (the Amazon virtual assistant) Alexa to call a phone number. You can also get Emergency Response System through Area Agency 11 for free,” she said. That service is funded by the Mahoning County Senior Levy and available only to Mahoning County residents.

Butch also commented that if you know what to do, then you are less scared about falling.

Other advice is to be aware that you are more likely to fall at home doing routine activities — such as getting in and out of the bathtub or reaching for a dish that is too high and throwing off your center of gravity — than falling at other locations.

Weak legs and low blood pressure increase risks for falls. It is recommended that you dangle your legs on the side of the bed before getting up. Another precautionary effort is to move your feet before getting up from a sitting position if you have been there too long.

The movement part of the class begins with simple stretches while the attendees are seated. The exercises progress to standing up, if the participants are able to do so, while they hold on to their chairs for support. The goal is to increase flexibility and leg strength.

Butch hopes participants leave with helpful knowledge when they complete the Matter of Balance course.

“I want them to recognize their concerns having falls, know that they are not alone in having concerns, learn skills to promote healthy and safe activities to reduce risks of falls and maintain physical activity throughout their later years,” she said.

“Most of all, I like to see older adults happy and healthy both physically and mentally.”