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Mahoning Valley students color Valentines for seniors

Students from across the Mahoning Valley crafted thousands of Valentine’s cards for seniors with what at first sounds like a not-so-loving message: “Don’t fall for me.”

Actually, the more than 4,000 missives from 14 school districts are colored with concern. The idea is to help the older adults in their lives to avoid bumps, stumbles and other obstacles that lead to falling down.

“Show your loved ones how much you love them this Valentine’s Day by helping them prevent falls,” Cassandra Valentini, community liaison for Direction Home of Eastern Ohio, formerly Area Agency on Aging 11, said.

“The ‘Don’t Fall for Me, Valentine’ Campaign is a project through the Ohio Department of Aging’s Steady U Ohio Program,” Valentini said. “Steady U Ohio is a statewide collaborative falls prevention initiative, supported by Ohio government and state business partners to ensure that every county, every community and every Ohioan knows how they can prevent falls, one step at a time.”

According to the Ohio Department of Health, falls are the top cause of injuries leading to hospital visits and deaths in Ohioans 65 and older. On average, an older resident is injured in a fall every five minutes across the state.

In 2017, the latest year information was compiled, people 65 and older made up about 17 percent of the statewide population but accounted for more than 87 percent of fatal falls, according to the state Department of Health.

“Falls are not a normal part of aging, and most falls can be prevented,” Valentini said. “The things they say that contribute to falls is lower body weakness, increased medications and unsafe homes. Lower body weakness is a real thing.

“It’s really about about getting up and moving, keeping your walkways clear of clutter, making sure your stairs have handrails, having handrails in the bathroom, keeping things you use frequently within reach.

“Low vision is a serious contributing factor to falls,” she said, urging more lights and lamps. “Even putting on sunglasses can be helpful when it’s sunny outside, because it looks darker when you come back in. It can be as simple as that.”

Students were coached on how to keep their older relatives safe, with such things as cleaning up clutter, making sure rugs aren’t bunched up and offering to “take a walk, ride bikes, swim or play games like catch, tennis and tag with them to help them stay active,” Valentini said.

School districts participating in the “Don’t Fall for Me” Valentines were Girard, Howland, Warren, Lakeview and Brookfield in Trumbull County; Austintown, New Middletown, Youngstown, Poland, Holy Family and Child First Day Care in Mahoning County; Crestview and Salem in Columbiana County; and Buckeye in Ashtabula.

“The way the community came together to accomplish this was remarkable. Students from schools across our public service region were such a big help and the seniors are thrilled to have a Valentine from a child for Valentine’s Day,” Valentini said.

“We had from day care to the seventh-grade Kindness Club at Poland that colored pages,” she said. “Austintown was biggest contributor. They gave 1,666 Valentines. They had first, second and third grades and special education first to third grades coloring.

“Brookfield was next. They gave 1,116 Valentines. Almost the whole elementary school colored them,” she said.

Brittany Morell, marketing and communications director for Austintown Local Schools, said, “We thought it was a really nice project, not only to color Valentines for our seniors, but to provide them with this information on the back, and to teach our kids what to look for if Grandma and Grandpa are at risk of falling, what items to move out of the way. We like the project, and we like the educational aspect as well.”

Along with help from the younger generation, Direction Home of Eastern Ohio also runs a free Steady U Wellness course called “Matter of Balance” at various locations in the four-county area, Valentini said. For class dates and places, call 330-505-2300.

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